Arab accuse Israel of hiding behind US terror to wage war on Palestinians
By AFP, 16 September 2001
The Arab states on Sunday kept up charges that Israel is hiding behind the massive terrorist attacks in the United States to escalate its war on the Palestinians.

In an interview published Sunday in the government newspaper Al-Ahram, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said he hoped Israel would not "exploit" the attacks as a cover to fight the Palestinians.

Mubarak, whose remarks Al-Ahram said were taken from an interview with US television network NBC to be broadcast later Sunday, insisted further Israeli attacks would bring only more terrorism and hatred.

Israel Prime Minister Ariel Sharon now compares Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to Saudi-born Osama bin Laden, Washington's top suspect in Tuesday's terror, while staging heavy raids on the Palestinian territories.

Mubarak's foreign minister Ahmed Maher was even harsher, saying late Saturday that Sharon had made clear he wants to "exploit the situation by any means to avoid any progress" in peace talks.

During a meeting here Thursday, ambassadors to the 22-member Arab League condemned Israel's "exploitation" of the events in the United States to escalate its violence against the Palestinians and pursue its occupation.

It accused Israel of practicing its own form of terrorism.

Israel launched land, sea and air strikes against Palestinian positions Saturday, a day after Sharon cancelled planned ceasefire talks between Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres.

The day after the terror attacks, a number of Palestinians were killed during an Israeli incursion in the West Bank.

Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer, in an interview with an Israeli newspaper, gloated that Arafat was now on the defensive .

"It is a fact that we have killed 14 Palestinians in Jenin, Kabatyeh and Tammun, with the world remaining absolutely silent. It's a disaster for Arafat," Ben Eliezer said.

"Arafat will be history the moment he loses his international legitimacy," he said.

Arafat in the meantime has asked senior security officials "not to give Israel reasons to continue its aggression."

On Sunday, Sharon offered to end army raids on the self-rule territories if Arafat declares a ceasefire.

"If there are 48 hours of absolute calm, Shimon Peres will meet Arafat to further discuss a ceasefire," he said.

Sharon said the aim of the meeting would be to "reach the seven-day period of calm, which is a prerequisite for the implementation of the Mitchell plan and the easing of sanctions on the Palestinian population".

The Mitchell plan, drafted by a committee under former US senator George Mitchell, recommends a six-week cooling-off period with confidence-building measures, a freeze on developing Jewish settlements and finally a return to political negotiations.

Sharon said that he opposed an Arafat-Peres meeting for the moment, charging the Palestinian leader "makes full use of terrorism" and compared Palestinian violence to "bin Laden's terrorism against the Americans."

Arab officials and commentators, from Tunis to Damascus, fear there is an Israeli-backed campaign to tar Arabs and Muslims as terrorists to advance their strategic and political aims.

The semi-official Al-Dustour newspaper in Jordan has warned against "attempts" by Sharon to "use this overwhelming incident to cover up for his barbaric agression against the Palestinians."

A Syrian official, Abdallah Al-Ahmar, said terrorism should not be confused with the "resistance" waged by the Palestinians.

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