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Conflict may spread, Israel warns Europe


ISRAEL issued a warning yesterday that the daily running street battles between Israelis and Palestinians could erupt into a regional conflict that would engulf the Middle East and stretch across the Mediterranean to Europe. During a visit to London, Shlomo Ben-Ami, the Israeli Foreign Minister, painted a far bleaker picture of the implications of the month-long crisis gripping the Middle East than have previously been set out by Israeli leaders.

Mr Ben-Ami was a leading figure for almost a decade in the negotiations with the Palestinians, which collapsed last month. Yesterday he appealed to Tony Blair for help in persuading Yassir Arafat, the Palestinian leader, to enforce a ceasefire and resume talks before it was too late. He made similar calls to European leaders in Paris earlier in the day and today is due in Washington for talks with President Clinton, who has only weeks left in office to broker a peace agreement.

Mr Ben-Ami said that the longer the present Blow intensityB conflict with the Palestinians continued the bigger the risk that it would lead to a regional escalation. There are already fears of fresh fighting on the northern border with Lebanon, which could drag in Syrian forces as well. Also, the militant mood on the street across the Arab world could force moderate leaders into direct confrontation with Israel.

Mr Ben-Ami said: BThis is why we say to the Europeans: BYou have high stakes here.B It is the stability of the Mediterranean B maybe even of Europe B that is at risk.B

One flashpoint that would push the street battles in the West Bank and Gaza into a virtual state of war could happen on November 15, when the Palestinian leader has threatened unilaterally to declare an independent state.

If that happened, Mr Ben-Ami said, Israel would reluctantly respond in kind with a Bdefensive disengagementB from the Palestinian areas. The move would effectively mean that the main areas of disputed land, such as East Jerusalem and the Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, would be incorporated into the Jewish state and the main Palestinian population areas sealed off by the Israeli military.

BWe will be obliged to take measures of defensive disengagment in case the Palestinians declare unilaterally,B Mr Ben-Ami told The Times. BA unilateral declaration means you signal the end of the peace process B nothing binds us any more.B

While insisting that he remains an optimistic and committed to a negotiated settlement, he said the peace movement in Israel was in danger of collapse unless a breakthrough was achieved soon.

The centre-left coalition of Ehud Barak, the Prime Minister, is holding on to power by a thread, and the right-wing opposition would return to power if elections were held today.

BThe PalestiniansB response to this wave of violence is threatening to shatter the peace camp in Israel,B he said. BWe spent a lifetime trying to build a modus vivendi with the Palestinians. We see the work of our lives collapsing before our eyes. The threat is that this will be the day of the hawks B the Palestinian hawks and the Israeli hawks.B

Although all sides to the conflict agreed on the provisions of a ceasefire last month at the Sharm el-Sheikh summit in Egypt, the deal failed to halt the violence. The search for a solution has been complicated by next weekBs American presidential elections, which will seriously weaken President ClintonBs influence in the region. In part that is why Mr Ben-Ami made his appeal for help yesterday to Britain and other European leaders.,,28216,00.html

-- Martin Thompson (, October 31, 2000


Israel braces for two-front war

Special to World MIDDLE EAST NEWSLINE Tuesday, October 31, 2000

TEL AVIV B Israel is preparing for a two-front war as Syria appears to have given the Hizbullah and its Palestinian allies the green light for attacks on the Lebanese border with the Jewish state.

Israeli defense officials said the government of Prime Minister Ehud Barak assesses that Hizbullah will launch attacks together with an offensive by Palestinian Islamic groups. They said they have intelligence information of two Hamas squads that have infiltrated Israel in an attempt to launch terrorist attacks.

"There is an effort by more than one organization to carry out an attack in the heart of the country," Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh said. "There are elements that want to draw us into a conflict in the territories and on the northern border."

The officials said Syria is allowing Hizbullah to attack Israel from the Lebanese border. They point to the increasing shooting attacks from Lebanon on Israeli soldiers. On Sunday, Israeli soldiers came under fire near Kibbutz Zarit. Nobody was injured.

"What worries us is that Syria does not fulfill a suitable role," Sneh said. "There are indications that it is acting differently. It could be because the situation in the Arab world, it does not have the motivation to stop this [Hizbullah attacks]."

Hizbullah secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah urged for greater attacks on Israel. Nasrallah said the Israeli policy of restraint was playing into the hands of the Palestinians.

"The enemy's options are narrow," Nasrallah said. "Either they invade the Palestinian territories and thus the peace process would collapse or wait for a long time and this is in the interests of the Palestinians who are more capable of patience."

On Monday, an Israeli security coordinator was wounded by Palestinian gunfire. Earlier, an Israeli officer was lightly injured in a bombing near the Egyptian border with the Gaza Strip.

In eastern Jerusalem, two Israeli security guards were shot and critically injured. The guards were said to have been shot at close range outside a government office on Monday.

Israeli sources said the military has prepared a plan to launch an offensive against Hizbullah in Lebanon and the PA in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. But the sources said Prime Minister Ehud Barak is under pressure from the United States to maintain restraint.

The sources said the military has been dismayed by Barak's policy. They said the army withdrew tanks from Jerusalem because Barak refused to allow them to respond to Palestinian gunfire by Tanzim fighters loyal to Arafat.

Barak has warned his Cabinet that a war would only prompt massive international pressure. "If we would have 400 or 1,000 dead Palestinians and more pictures of killed children, it doesn't help Israel at all and perhaps damages Israel," Barak said. "God forbid, that a tank shell should go astray as in Kafr Kanna."

The reference was to the 1996 shelling attack on a Hizbullah position that killed nearly 100 Lebanese civilians.

Barak appears to have been stung by the criticism from the military. On Monday, officials said the prime minister approved a plan to send commandos in the PA areas to attack gunmen loyal to Arafat. But the officials said any attack will require the approval of Barak, who is also defense minister.

On Sunday, Palestinians reported that seven people died in clashes with Israeli troops. The figures have been disputed by Israeli military sources.

Tuesday, October 31, 2000

-- Martin Thompson (, October 31, 2000.

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