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BICOM Daily Briefing October 16 2003

Last updated: 2003-10-16

Israel condemns the terrorist attack on an American diplomatic convoy in the Gaza strip in which three Americans were killed. This attack once again highlights the continued presence of a terrorist infrastructure within Palestinian society and demonstrates that the Palestinian Authority has yet to take any form of action against the terrorist infrastructure. Words of regret and condemnation are not enough- it is time for the PA to take the necessary steps against the terrorists and to commit to peaceful means of resolving the conflict.

Media Summary

All of the day’s British press gives coverage to the terrorist bombing and deaths of three Americans in a US diplomatic convoy in the Gaza Strip, with many of the papers analysing the ominous development and speculating as to whom was behind the attack and its consequences. In editorials, both The Daily Telegraph and Times highlight the extremist incitement within the Palestinian Authority and the lack of action against terrorism that has led to such an attack. In other comment pieces, Donald Macintyre examines the alternative peace plan of the Geneva Accord for The Independent. In the Israeli press, Ha’aretz interviews Baroness Symons on current British government attitudes towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Quotes of the Day

Palestinian bombing of Americans condemned:

George W. Bush (15/10): “Palestinian authorities should have acted long ago to fight terror in all its forms. The failure to create effective Palestinian security forces dedicated to fighting terror continues to cost lives. There must be an empowered prime minister who controls all Palestinian forces - reforms that continue to be blocked by Yasser Arafat.”

Fred Eckhard spokesman for UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan (15/10): “[The Secretary-General] calls on the Palestinian Authority to act with speed and determination to bring to justice those responsible for the attack.”

Javier Solana EU Foreign Policy Chief (15/10): “The PA has to identify, apprehend and punish those responsible for the crime today.”

Terje Roed Larsen UN Middle East Envoy (15/10): “[the attack] underscores the vital need for the Palestinian Authority to revamp and strengthen its security forces so such terror attacks do not occur.”

Straw criticises Palestinian terrorist groups:

Jack Straw, British Foreign Secretary (14/10): “The first and essential precondition is for Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the other rejectionist terrorist groups to announce a ceasefire and give up the idea that it will be possible to help the Palestinians to achieve a peaceful and secure future through the sort of terrible and rejectionist terror that those groups adopt.”

Jack Straw (14/10): “There is no point in having a dialogue with groups that make it clear that they have murderous intent and which are seeking simply to blow up any prospect of peace. There was every opportunity for Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah to support the roadmap for peace and their own Palestinian Authority when that was promulgated at the end of June. They failed to do so, and displayed a wilful desire to disrupt and undermine the elected Palestinian Government. However, their planting of terrorist bombs in Jerusalem on 19 August was the single most important cause of the breakdown of progress on the roadmap.”

Behind the News

US security guards killed in roadside bomb attack:

Three American security guards were killed and a fourth wounded in a roadside bombing of a US diplomatic convoy in the Gaza Strip. The three-vehicle diplomatic convoy, accompanied by a Palestinian police escort, was travelling on the main north-south road in the Gaza Strip near Beit Hanoun when the bomb was set off by remote control. One of the vehicles, all of which had diplomatic license plates, was carrying the US cultural attache, who was on his way to interview Palestinian students for options to study in the US. The attache was not hurt. However, the armoured car carrying American security guards was blown apart and overturned. The bombing took place in an area that is under total Palestinian control. Shortly after the blast, a team of American investigators who arrived at the scene was stoned by dozens of Palestinian children and had to be resuced by Palestinian police. One report said that the policemen opened fire wounding several of the children.

President George W. Bush blamed Yasser Arafat and Palestinian authorities for the vicious bombing. Bush said that such attacks are an obstacle to a Palestinian state and the Palestinian Authority should have acted long ago to fight terror in all its forms. The President said that Arafat was blocking the needed reforms, such as handing real power to the Palestinian prime minister. The US has instructed American citizens to leave the Gaza Strip following the bombing.

Despite official expressions of condemnation from Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority, the Palestinian leadership has come under increasing pressure from the US and the European Union to crack down on terror. Hamas and Islamic Jihad were quick to deny involvement in the attack. Spokesmen for the Popular Resistance Committees, a group comprising of former PA security personnel and former Fatah members, claimed responsibility for the bombing. PA security officials have arrested five members of the group in connection with the bombing.

US House of Representatives votes to impose sanctions on Syria:

The US House of Representatives has voted to impose sanctions on Syria for sponsoring terrorist groups and developing weapons of mass destruction. The vote in the House was 398-4. The legislation also calls on Damascus to end its occupation of Lebanon. President Bush last week ended two years of opposition to the legislation called the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Act and indicated that he will sign it. The law will give the White House a range of options for sanctioning Syria, from sanctioning US exports, business investments to downgrading diplomatic representation and imposing travel restrictions on Syrian diplomats in the US.

Comment and Opinion

The Daily Telegraph (16/10): “Whichever Palestinian faction perpetrated these murders - and it may well be that Hamas or Islamic Jihad employed the flag of convenience of "Popular Resistance Committee" in much the same fashion as the IRA allowed some particularly inopportune atrocities to be claimed by the "Catholic Reaction Force" - there is no doubting the common ideological well-spring from which all these groups drink. Young people in the occupied territories are indoctrinated from an early age into the Wahabbist version of Islam that so inspired Osama bin Laden. Considering the burgeoning anti-Western and anti-Semitic delirium that now afflicts many of these Palestinians, perhaps the only surprise is that such an attack did not happen sooner. This poisoning of young Arab minds does far more to explain the attack than, say, Palestinian anger over this week's American veto of a UN Security Council resolution condemning the Israeli construction of a security fence.

The heat will now be on the new Palestinian prime minister, Abu Ala, to deliver some tough measures. Maybe he will, maybe he won't: he could, like his predecessors, simply bundle some suspects through the front door of the interrogation centre and then quietly release them once the immediate crisis is over. The West's ability to control him is clearly minimal. But what America, in particular, can control is its own behaviour. The attack in Gaza should prompt a reappraisal of CIA training of Palestinian security personnel, which constitutes a critical plank of the Oslo process. The Palestinian Authority's complex apparatus is so riddled with Islamist infiltrators - some of whom may have tipped off the terrorists on the whereabouts of the American convoy - as to raise serious questions about whether it is a genuine partner for peace. Like the Saudi intelligence services, which are heavily penetrated by bin Laden, the Palestinian security machine is at best a liability in the war on terrorism.”

The Times (16/10): “Three militant Palestinian groups — Islamic Jihad, Hamas and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine — were quick to deny responsibility. Their denials were understandable given the diplomatic gravity of the attack, but their words carry little weight. Groups that have no scruples about sending out suicide bombers to kill and maim civilians are unlikely to be squeamish about targeting the country they hold responsible for backing Israel’s policies in the region or worried about telling the truth about the incident later. Even if the political leadership knows the public relations disaster of a direct attack on Americans, it has encouraged a climate of terror and celebrated senseless suicide bombing as martyrdom. What is spurring the quick denials is not contrition: it is fear. The terrorists are concerned that the deaths of its citizens may prompt America to exact the same sort of swift retribution as was visited on the Taleban after September 11.

Yassir Arafat has also condemned the “ugly crime”. But most Americans have lost count of the times that Mr Arafat has condemned this or that terrorist outrage. They are not likely to be mollified by any promises of a crackdown, or tolerant of further Cabinet squabbles while the Palestinian leader ensures that he maintains as much as he can of his hold and that his clique remains in power. The mood was best summed up by Terje Roed-Larsen, the United Nations Middle East envoy, who called the attack an “ominous widening” of the conflict and said that it underscored “the vital need for the Palestinian Authority to revamp and strengthen its security forces so such terror attacks do not occur”.”

Beebwatch (The Daily Telegraph, 16/10): “The Simon Wiesenthal Centre, the organisation that campaigns for victims of the Holocaust, has pulled out of a six-hour BBC television series about Nazi genocide in protest at the way the corporation reported the Haifa suicide bombing this month.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the centre, took the decision after he read the Beebwatch column about the BBC's scrupulous avoidance of the word "terrorism" to describe the murder of 19 people.

"That was the last straw," he says. "The centre no longer trusts in the integrity of an organisation that wants to commemorate dead Jews but shows zero respect for live ones or their murdered family members." The centre initially agreed to act as an adviser to the BBC series, which will mark the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. "We are withdrawing from this potentially important documentary project with regret, but we feel we owe it to those victims of the Holocaust who are still alive," adds Cooper.”

Sharon Sadeh interviews Baroness Symons (Ha’aretz, 16/10): “Symons says the Palestinian Authority must make a concerted effort to foil terror attacks and admits that in this respect, the Palestinian leadership has been a disappointment. "Lord Levy told Arafat he must take more actions to curb the violence. We said to him that if he really wants the two-state solution and to pursue the road map, then he has to take real responsibility for security. This is not going to see Mr. Arafat to have a pleasant chat but to see Arafat to deliver a clear and unambiguous message."”

Anne Bayefsky (The Jerusalem Post, 16/10): “WAKE UP. This is a secretary-general who believes UN resources are better spent focusing on Israel than assisting the war against terrorism and democratic reform in the Arab Middle East. More attention, despite the fact that September saw one more emergency session of the General Assembly on Israel. Indeed, an entire UN division works round-the-clock on Palestinian rights and nothing else.

Annan is more interested in the Security Council spending its time on the eve of Yom Kippur criticising Israel's bombing of Syrian terrorist bases. Within hours he had issued a release "strongly deploring" the strike and putting it in the loaded category of "threatening regional peace and security." By contrast, according to the secretary-general, the Haifa suicide-bombing and its Syrian connections posed no such threat.

This is a UN that cannot even define terrorism. On Friday, October 10 a working group of the Sixth Committee of the General Assembly found itself, after many years of similar attempts, deadlocked over a Comprehensive Convention Against Terrorism. The Organisation of Islamic Conference is denying consensus over the issue of a definition of terrorism, since blowing up Israelis does not count in their books.

Where is the voice of the secretary-general demanding of UN members that they agree on a common understanding of terrorism? Surely, the identification of a terrorist lies at the heart of any successful campaign to defeat terrorism.”

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The Israel Daily Briefing is supplied by BICOM