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BICOM Daily Briefing November 17 2003

Last updated: 2003-11-17

All media outlets focus extensively on the bombing of two synagogues in Istanbul on Saturday. In today’s papers, the main stories highlight the link of the bombings to Al Qa’eda. The Independent runs a story describing Israel’s despatching of emergency aid to Istanbul in the wake of the attacks. The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph also cover an arson attack on a Jewish school in Paris that took place over the weekend. Israeli newspapers Yediot Aharonot, Maariv and Ha‘aretz all have lead stories on the apparent breakdown of the prisoner exchange deal between Israel and Hizballah.

The weekend papers saw much media attention in the British press for the declaration by four former heads of the General Security Service, to the effect that Israel is headed for ‘catastrophe’, with today’s Financial Times continuing to cover this story. Sunday’s Telegraph Magazine features interviews with the parents of suicide bombers and members of the Palestinian terrrorist groups.

Quotes of the Day

Condemnation of Turkey synagogue bombings:

Jack Straw, Foreign Secretary (15/11): “I utterly deplore and condemn this act of terrorism. Those responsible deserve nothing less than the contempt and condemnation of the entire international community. I was particularly appalled that these attacks were carried out against ordinary people engaged in peaceful worship.”

Kofi Annan, UN Secretary General (15/11): "all measures [must] be taken to bring those responsible for these heinous acts to justice."

Bertrand Ramchara, UN Rights Official (15/11): "Whatever their claims, those who carry out this type of attack -- whether they act as they have done recently in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, against civilians and places of worship in Iraq, and in too many other places to count -- are criminals that must be brought to justice in accordance with international human rights law."

Ariel Sharon, Israeli Prime Minister (16/11): “Yesterday, we received a hard reminder…On Shabbat, synagogues were attacked in Istanbul, and Jews were killed... during their prayers. Our enemies have yet to understand that the Jewish people cannot be broken."

President Moshe Katzav (16/11): "There is no conflict or struggle between Judaism and Islam. Judaism, Christianity and Islam should fight together against the terrorism and bloodshed…There is a direct connection between terrorism and anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism stands against human values, universal values, and gives encouragement and inspiration to international terrorism."

Silvan Shalom Israeli Foreign Minister (15/11): “Israel expects the entire international community to strongly condemn today's terrorist acts, and to take every measure and to use all means at its disposal to fight terrorism and to bring the perpetrators to justice.”

US President George W. Bush on BBC’s ‘Breakfast with Frost’:

George W. Bush (16/11): “However, to achieve a peaceful Palestinian state, the emergence of a peaceful Palestinian state, a state where people are willing to risk capital, a place where people are willing to develop an economy, there must be a focused effort to defeat terror. And there hasn't been with the current Palestinian leadership.”

Behind the News

Claim of responsibility for Istanbul bombing:

Two Arabic-language newspapers received messages Sunday from individuals claiming to represent the Al-Qa’eda organisation, accepting responsibility for the terrorist attacks on Saturday in Istanbul, which claimed 23 lives. The messages read that the attacks were carried out by the Abu Hafez Masri Brigades. The same name was used by Al-Qa’eda when claiming responsibility for the attacks at the Paradise Hotel in Mombasa, at the Marriott Hotel in Jakarta, and on the Arkia passenger jet a year ago. Israeli security officials confirmed that the messages were being taken seriously, and the attacks indeed appear to have been the work of Bin-Laden‘s organisation. (For more information on the bombing in Turkey please see Weekend Brief 15-16 November)

Reports indicate that there had been warnings of likely attacks on Jewish targets in Turkey in the past weeks, and that security measures had been tightened as a result. Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, who was in Turkey on Sunday, refused to comment on the security aspects of the terror attacks, but did not deny that the defence establishment had received warnings regarding possible attacks on Jewish targets there. Israeli security officials are currently present in Turkey, assisting in the investigation.


Breakdown of prisoner exchange deal:

According to a report in Lebanese newspaper Al-Mustaqpal, quoted this morning on Israel Radio, Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah has rejected Israel’s terms for the proposed deal for the exchange of prisoners. The deal would free about 400 Arab prisoners held in Israeli jails, in return for the release of abducted Israeli businessman Elhanan Tennenbaum, and the bodies of three IDF soldiers kidnapped and killed by Hizballah. The report claimed that Nasrallah is insisting on the release of Lebanese terrorist Samir Kuntar as part of the deal. Kuntar took part in the murder of members of the Haran family, in Nahariya in 1979, and Israel has ruled out the possibility of his release.

Sources close to the negotiations indicate, however, that Nasrallah’s rejection of Israel’s terms is unlikely to mean the complete breakdown of the negotiating process on this matter.

Lifting of BBC boycott:

Yesterday’s announcement by the Foreign Ministry brought to an end the unofficial Israeli boycott of the BBC. The boycott was brought into effect after the second airing of a documentary ‘Israel’s Secret Weapons‘, in which Israel was compared to North Korea and Iran and depicted as a dangerous, totalitarian state. The decision by the BBC to appoint a Special Adviser on Middle Eastern news coverage, and a joint declaration of a commitment to objective reporting appear to have been key elements in bringing about the ending of the boycott.

Comment and Opinion


Barbara Amiel (Daily Telegraph, 17/11): “The atmosphere remained clubby and cordial as the Ambassador of Israel came to the microphone to present a resolution on behalf of Israeli children. Ambassadors don't normally present resolutions at committee level, but since Israel had not presented one since 1978 (and that was withdrawn after the Syrians tied its future to negotiations with the PLO), it was a bit of a first. The Israeli resolution was a mirror copy of one sponsored by Egypt and passed (88-4, 58 abstentions) in the General Assembly three weeks earlier, underlining the need to protect the rights of Palestinian children. The delegates were polite as Ambassador Dan Gillerman spoke. He asked for security for Israeli, Palestinian and all children of the world. He spoke of a "false reality" that pretends one side has a monopoly on victim status. He wished, he said, to prevent the blatant exercise of a double-standard in the UN.

He mentioned the deliberate bombing of discos, pizza parlours and school buses, almost exclusively used by children. When he finished, the session chairman did not ask the names of co-sponsors for the Israeli resolution. Because there were none. A discussion followed. The Syrian delegate strenuously opposed assistance of Israeli children and said the resolution was procedurally wrong. The Palestinian Authority's lady complained that the Israelis had "copied" their resolution. The situation of Palestinian children was "unique" she said - which it may well be, since most children of the world are not used as human shields for terrorist camps or encouraged to be suicide bombers so their pictures can be put up in grocery stores as "martyrs".

It is as if British children in the Second World War had not been evacuated to the countryside but rather placed around the War Office and anti-aircraft embankments. Afterwards, the PA lady conferenced earnestly for 20 minutes with a French delegate over procedurally thwarting the Israeli resolution so it would not come to a vote.

The reality of the Middle East is that the very existence of Israel is considered a nakba - a catastrophe. This being so, the Israeli Ambassador could present a resolution recommending all people be encouraged to breathe - and it would be unacceptable to that part of the world. Does the UN matter? Only insofar as the record matters. Certain things must be done not because they will make a difference but to set the record straight. This week, Third Committee delegates will consider deleting anti-Semitism from the new UNHCR resolution on racial and religious intolerance, thus giving new life to old canards.

If the Arab world has any legitimate case against Israel, it is not the occupied territories, which are in Israeli hands only because of wars the Arabs launched. It is what they see as the initial injustice behind the Jewish state's founding.”

“But the Arabs have had a great revenge. They have taken over the very body that was responsible for this - the United Nations - with the hope that the organisation that created the injustice may well be the instrument of its undoing.”

Danny Rubinstein (Ha‘aretz, 17/11): “Against the backdrop of the terrorist attack in Istanbul, the terrorism in Saudi Arabia and the continued bloodletting in Iraq, surprisingly some optimistic expressions are being heard from Palestinian spokesmen. They hope a cease-fire with Israel will soon be achieved. According to associates of Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat, General Omar Suleiman, head of Egyptian intelligence, is to arrive in Ramallah today. After speaking with Arafat and with newly elected prime minister, Ahmed Qureia (Abu Ala), he will meet with senior Israeli officials, and he may go to Gaza for talks with the heads of Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

His visit is a clear sign that in Egypt they believe that conditions have been created that make it possible to reach a new hudna (cease-fire). The Egyptians are in regular contact with Palestinian delegates, including the heads of Hamas, and they regularly consult with American diplomats - so it is very possible that a serious attempt will be made. On the Palestinian side, there has been a certain easing of the crises in the top echelons with the formation of the new government, which last week received the vote of confidence of the Palestine Legislative Committee (the parliament) and was sworn in, in Arafat's office. The Palestinian Authority now looks more organized, and the prime minister is speaking about a fruitful dialogue with the various factions, and about holding general elections in about another eight months.”


Israel Briefing supplied by BICOM