Disaster could shift Middle East balance

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Disaster could shift Middle East balance

Shanghai Star. 2001-09-13 The worst attack on US soil since Pearl Harbour could have major implications for United States policy in the Middle East, political analysts said. A Palestinian gunman fires his rifle at Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp near the port city Sidon in south Lebanon on Tuesday. Palestinian gunmen at refugee camps in Lebanon fired into the air on Tuesday to celebrate news of attacks on major US landmarks and government offices.

Much will depend on who is blamed for Tuesday's strikes on major landmarks in New York and Washington - particularly if any group from the Middle East is found responsible.

The US has not publicly apportioned blame for the unprecedented assault but one official and counter-terrorism experts point to Osama bin Laden, the Saudi-born militant accused of blowing up two US embassies in Africa in 1998.

As the most influential outside player, the United States has a key role to play in the Middle East even though it has taken a back seat since George W. Bush became president.

"There is no peace process right now and there has not been for a long time. But this is an earth-changing event," said Gerald Steinberg, head of a conflict resolution programme at Israel's Bar-Ilan University.

"It depends on the Americans' decision on what to do. We could see them leading a major international campaign against terrorism, but we will have to wait to see who is responsible."

Israel could stand to gain if US and world understanding increases for its often criticised actions to tackle militants who have carried out suicide bombings during an 11-month-old Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation.

The Palestinians appear to have little or nothing to gain, except for the few celebrating the humiliating blow dealt to Israel's superpower ally. Many Palestinians accuse the US of blindly backing Israeli efforts to quell their revolt.

Palestinian militants could suffer in any US crackdown on Middle East groups, even if they are not the prime targets, and international attitudes about attacks on Israelis could harden.

Israel was quick to urge Washington to lead a new international effort to combat militant Islamic groups.

"If there is anybody that can lead a real attack to bring an end to this dangerous war, this dangerous weapon, it's only the United States - with the help of all of us," said Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who won pledges from Russian President Vladimir Putin last week to share his country's experiences in combating attacks, said in a statement: "I believe that together we can defeat these forces of evil."

Palestinian denial

Palestinian President Yasser Arafat condemned the attacks and several Palestinian militant groups denied any involvement.

"We completely condemn this serious operation...We were completely shocked," Arafat told reporters in Gaza.

If it turns out that any Palestinian group was involved, the Palestinians would face a fearsome US response. Security experts said they doubted that Palestinians had a hand in it.

Any such involvement would damage the Palestinian struggle to win world support for an independent state and an end to Israel's 34-year-old occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Arafat has no interest in antagonizing Washington, whose support will be vital if Palestinians are to win international backing for calls to send outside monitors to the region.

"This (day of attacks) could change a lot of things - it depends on whether it was an international action or a political (domestic) action, and whether it involved the Middle East," said Azmi Bishara, an Arab member of Israeli parliament.

"A lot depends on who the perpetrators were, and then we will see how the Americans act. But right now is a time for offering condolences and to condemn this international crime."

Steinberg said that whoever carried out the attacks, Israel could expect a wave of sympathy for its own fight against suicide bombings and shootings by Palestinians.

"I think the mood has already changed. When I saw Israeli officials being interviewed today...I think we were already seeing a recognition (of Israel's problems)," he said.

Palestinians fear that any such shift in world sympathy could give Israel an even freer hand in applying harsh military and economic measures against their revolt.

More than 700 people, most of them Palestinians, have been killed and thousands wounded since the uprising began.

(Agencies via Xinhua)


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), September 14, 2001


If the PA has any brains at all they will do their best to reign in the trouble makers for if they don't, in light of what has just happened to this country, it may be the end of them and quite possibly the Palestinian people.

-- Steve McClendon (ke6bjd@hotmail.com), September 14, 2001.

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