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BICOM Daily Briefing January 16 2004

Last updated: 2004-01-16

In the British media today, coverage continues of Wednesday’s terror attack at the Erez checkpoint, with Richard Littlejohn in The Sun stressing that such acts are an obstacle to peace. The Guardian, meanwhile, reports on public criticism against Islamic Jihad made by the family of a teenage Palestinian suicide bomber, who died in a futile attempt to kill Israelis this week. There are also a number of reports on the investigation into the death of Thomas Hurndall, with The Guardian focusing on the involvement of the Metropolitan Police in the investigation and the Daily Telegraph reporting on Hurndall’s experiences in the period preceding his death. The Guardian publishes an obituary of Yossi Ginossar, the former Shin Bet officer who was later involved in negotiations between Israel and the PLO. The BBC, Reuters and Associated Press all report on the closure imposed on the Gaza Strip following Wednesday’s suicide bombing.

The Glasgow Herald publishes a long feature article looking into the lives of an Israeli and a Palestinian family. The New Statesman, meanwhile, includes reflections by William Dalrymple on what he considers to be growing prejudice against Muslims in the West. The Jewish Chronicle focuses on a counter-demonstration by Jewish youth in London, against left wing and Muslim demonstrators advocating a boycott of Israel.

All Israeli papers today lead with reports on the decision by the ICJ in the Hague to allow representatives of Arab League states to testify at the hearing on Israel’s Security Fence, scheduled to begin on February 23. Haaretz reports on the Civil Services Commission’s decision to approve the appointment of Zvi Hefetz as Israel’s ambassador to London. The paper also has a feature on allegations that PA Chairman Yasser Arafat deliberately kept Marwan Barghouti out of the proposed prisoner swap between Israel and Hizbullah.

Quotes of the Day:

PM Blair tells Palestinian Authority  to prepare a security plan if it wants talks

Prime Minister Tony Blair (15/01): “I do honestly believe that it is impossible to get this process restarted unless there is a credible security plan that allows people to believe genuinely that every attempt is being made to stop the support of terrorism, the flow of terrorists into either the Palestinian Authority or into Israel, and to give a clear message that terrorism is the enemy of progress for the Palestinian people.” (Prime Minister's press conference)

Prime Minister Tony Blair (15/01): “In today's world, particularly post-11 September, terrorism is the obstacle to political progress, and it is the obstacle to political progress whether it is in Northern Ireland, or it is in the Middle East, or it is out in Kashmir, or it's in Chechnya, or it is any of the difficult trouble-spots of the world. And that is why, you ask what can be done, the only thing that can be done is get a sufficiently robust security plan under way that allows people to say not that all terrorism is going to stop, but that everything possible is being done to stop it and that states that have got an ambivalent attitude towards sponsoring terrorism are states that are way out of line with the rest of the international order.”

Responses to the terror attack at Erez

Shaul Mofaz, Defence Minister (Yediot Ahronot, 16/01): “We will continue to behave as a humanitarian and democratic country, despite the latest terror attack, while continuing to defend the citizens of Israel. Together with this, we will spare no effort to preserve the fabric of life of the Palestinian population.”

Abdel Aziz Rantisi, Hamas leader (Jerusalem Post, 16/01): “We received a message from the US telling us that Hamas leaders would not be harmed if we halted our operations…"We turned down the offer and reaffirmed that our operations would continue as long as the occupation exists. This is what America, the West, and the Zionists must realize.”

Behind the News:

Arab states to testify at The Hague hearing on Fence

The International Court of Justice has ruled that it will permit representatives of member states of the Arab League to testify at the court’s hearings on the Security Fence, scheduled to commence on February 23. This decision further increased the fears of Israeli officials that the hearing is likely to turn into a event of anti-Israel sentiment and propaganda. Israel has not yet decided whether it will send a representative to make a presentation to the hearings, but preparations are being made for a large-scale information campaign to counter the allegations likely to surface. Senior legal experts, including Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz, have offered to aid the campaign, and British international law expert Daniel Bethlehem is helping Israel to formulate its legal stance.

Meanwhile, the Israeli High Court of Justice is to hear a petition brought by the human rights group ‘The Centre for the Defence of the Individual’, concerning those parts of the Fence that deviate from the Green Line. The High Court proceedings are likely to constitute a ‘dress rehearsal’ for what will follow at the ICJ in The Hague.

Family of bomber speak out against his recruiters

The Palestinian daily Al Ayyam reports that the family of Iyad al-Masri, who blew himself up on Sunday in the northern West Bank, has demanded that the Palestinian Authority launch an investigation to apprehend those who recruited the 17 year old. No one else was hurt in the explosion that killed Masri, and it is thought that his explosive belt detonated prematurely. Masri was on his way to conduct a suicide attack in Israel.

According to The Guardian, Masri’s father wrote to the leadership of Islamic Jihad in Nablus demanding an explanation for his son's death and questioning their decision to use him as a suicide bomber even if he had volunteered. He complained that the terrorist organisation had exploited the grief felt by his son, because of family members killed in clashes with the IDF. The family has written directly to Yasser Arafat, asking him to open an enquiry into the matter.

Hamas rejects US Initiative

According to a report by Khaled Abu Toameh in today’s Jerusalem Post, Hamas has rejected a US proposal in which targeted killing of its leaders would end, in return for Hamas’ ordering a cessation of suicide bombings. Prominent Hamas leader Abdel Aziz Rantisi has admitted for the first time that movement representatives are in contact with US officials. In the past, this had always been strenuously denied. Arab media reports suggest that Hamas has held talks with US officials in a number of countries, including Lebanon.

Rantisi also praised Reem al-Riyashi, who carried out the attack at the Erez checkpoint on Wednesday, in which four Israelis were killed. Al-Riyashi was the movement’s first female suicide bomber. Rantisi eulogised her in the following terms: “I want to greet the soul of this martyr who sacrificed herself and left her children for the sake of Palestine, for the sake of this ideology, for the sake of defending the Aksa Mosque, at a time when the nation is negligent in defending Palestine and Al-Aksa.”

Comment and Opinion:

Richard Littlejohn (The Sun, 16/01): “THOSE who think there’s a simple solution to the Palestinian problem should heed the words of Reem al-Reyashi, who blew herself to smithereens, killing four Israelis this week. Al-Reyashi was a mother of two, with an 18-month-old daughter and a three-year-old son.

Before her deadly mission, she posed for the video in combat fatigues, cradling a rifle and said: “God gave me two children and I loved them so much. I always wanted to be the first woman to carry out a martyr attack, where parts of my body can fly all over. It was always my wish to turn my body into deadly shrapnel against the Zionists.”

As the former Israeli premier Golda Meir once said, there will only be peace when the Arabs learn to love their children as much as they hate the Jews.”

Alex Brummer (Jewish Chronicle, 16/01): “Israel is a country which treats Arab victims of violence alongside its own in the wards of Jerusalem hospitals and where babies from Arab lands are treated under the Save a Child’s Heart programme at the Wolfson Hospital, in Holon.

Sure Arabs in Britain have reason to be offended by Kilroy-Silk’s attacks, and the BBC has excellent reasons to be embarrassed. But, when it comes to the Middle East, few in the British media can claim true objectivity.”

London Jewish News (16/01): “How bizarre it is that Kilroy-Smith is immediately suspended by the BBC while others brush off similar scandal with the greatest of ease. One of the corporation’s best-loved commentators also made a contribution to a national newspaper. A poem he wrote, published in the Observer, referred to the IDF as a “Zionist SS” and was followed with a declaration that Jewish settlers were “nazis” and “should be shot dead”. A minor kerfuffle ensued. Poet Tom Paulin continues to enjoy the comfort of the BBC sofas on a regular basis.

Other outrages which have disappeared without a trace make depressing reading. The New Statesman magazine felt free to publish a cover story with the grotesque image of a star of David piercing a British flag with the chilling title - A Kosher Conspiracy? And the Independent newspaper did not baulk at printing a cartoon of Israeli premier Ariel Sharon, on Holocaust memorial day, featuring him feeding off the bloody corpse of a child.

It seems the most monstrous references to old anti-semitic canards are acceptable if linked to Israel, the scapegoat of the modern age.”

Haaretz (16/01): “The terrorist, a young married mother of two children, came with a plan, and deliberately attacked a vulnerable spot, the crossing terminal. She negotiated with the Border Policemen and appealed to their compassion, enabling her to get through metal detectors at the gate, which repeatedly sounded warnings. She presented herself as an ailing invalid and burst into tears, imploring the security men to let her through. Then she set off her explosive belt in the middle of the group of people who had come to attend to her case. The Erez checkpoint chosen by the terror organizations for the attack is the sole crossing point for masses of Palestinians from the Gaza Strip who want to enter Israel to work. The checkpoint represents the front line of Israel's effort to draw a distinction between military activities against terrorists, and a readiness to allow innocent people to earn their daily bread.”

“The terror strike at the Erez checkpoint will probably oblige the security forces to develop more stringent inspections that will further burden entry procedures to Israel. It will certainly aggravate the suspicions of security personnel toward Palestinians, whether they are dealing with an ambulance carrying pregnant women, or sick or injured people seeking medical treatment. This is what happens when terror organizations strike at sites that have tried to make life easier for the innocent civilian population.”

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Israel Briefing by BICOM