Insight - Figures Behind the Israel/Palestinian War
The following is an insight, a sketch, into the two key figures behind the Israeli/Palestinian War.
Yasser Arafat V. Ariel Sharon
The conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians has reached new heights of brutality in recent days, with Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon personally blaming Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat for suicide bombings against civilians inside Israel. The United Nations Secretary General Koffi Annan has damned Israel's occupation of Palestinian territories as illegal, and lambasting it for applying "disproportionate lethal force"
Why is Israel targeting Yasser Arafat?
The Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, blames Arafat for suicide bombings that have killed scores of Israeli civilians since September 2000 - but more so in past weeks.
In a television broadcast widely seen as a justification for Israel's latest strikes, Sharon said the Palestinian leader had forced a war on Israel: "We know who is guilty. We know who is responsible. Arafat is guilty of everything that is happening here."
Sharon is also backed by United States President George W Bush who said over Easter that Israel is defending its people and that he understood Israel's motivations for its aggression.
Was Arafat behind the suicide attack?
No. Hamas, an Islamist terrorist group that has carried out many similar attacks, immediately claimed responsibility. It is at the extreme end of the Palestinian movement and has few direct links to the Palestinian Authority, which was set up to administer lands ceded to the Palestinian people through the Middle East peace process.
However, Israel has repeatedly said that Arafat is not doing enough to stop terrorists from the West Bank and Gaza Strip (his territories) committing atrocities in Israel.
After the latest suicide attacks Sharon went further, saying: "In choosing to allow the ruthless killing of innocent civilians, Arafat has chosen the path of terrorism."
Is there any truth in that?
Sharon was using similar language to that used by the US president, George Bush, when justifying the war in Afghanistan.
The Israeli prime minister said that Arafat had "chosen the path of terrorism" by allowing, or not acting to end, Hamas's existence in the Palestinian territories, much as Bush said "You're with us or you're with the terrorists".
Sharon's arguments go back further than September 11; in the late 1990s Arafat arrested Islamic Jihad and Hamas members, only to release them at the beginning of the current uprising, a source of continuing antagonism with Israel.
The then Israeli prime minister, Ehud Barak, said he considered the release of the prisoners (made after a helicopter strike on Arafat's Gaza City HQ) "a grave act" that could invite terrorist attacks.
Among the freed men were the leaders of the military wing of Hamas, including Mohammed Deif, a feared bomb expert killed by Israeli missiles in August this year.
What does Israel want?
It is not specifically denying the right of the Palestinians to administer their own affairs, or work towards forming a state (though some suspect otherwise, and the Israeli blockade is crippling the Palestinians) but an end to the militant presence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
However, Israel has broadened its definition of what constitutes a terrorist group and now includes Force 17, Arafat's personal security force.
Palestinian Authority security personnel have also been targeted in the strikes. Some believe that Sharon wants to kill - or expel - the Palestinian leader.
An adviser to the Israeli prime minister said the strategy is to "hit something close", which could be interpreted as an attempt to increase the pressure on Arafat to act against Islamic Jihad and Hamas.
Will he do that?
Arafat's position in the Palestinian territories is not secure. The Palestinian Authority is unpopular, close to broke and crumbling. And the more Israel makes incursions into the Palestinian territory, the more the militant groups gain in support.
If Arafat did take tough action against Hamas and Islamic Jihad, as Israel is demanding, he may provoke a civil war and bring about his own demise.
Few in the international community would wish to see that. But the 130 or so arrests Arafat has made so far have provoked riots, and fuelled Palestinian frustration against Israel and his own administration.
The tension only rises: a Palestinian cabinet member, Hisham Abdel Razek, said that Israel strikes were undermining the authority's ability to crack down on militant groups.
Why did Hamas launch the suicide attacks?
Its stated reason was revenge for the assassination of its West Bank military commander, Mahmoud Abu Hanoud, by Israeli missiles. But it is part of a cycle of violence that has blighted Israel and the Palestinian territories since the September 2000 uprising. Approximately 1,000 people have died since then, the vast majority on the Palestinian side.
Although Israel and the Palestinian Authority are participants in a peace process, sections of both populations - and at times both administrations - are involved an active conflict.
Palestinian gunmen have targeted Jewish settlers, the army has fired on their villages and, in response, young Palestinians - sometimes children - have fought the soldiers.
Israel has made regular incursions into the West Bank and Gaza Strip, assassinated suspected militants and effectively ended economic life in the territories through tight blockades.
What of the two men's history?
In his televised address, Sharon called Arafat the "greatest obstacle to peace and stability in the Middle East" - something he said was true in the past, present and future.
Few Israelis could have mistaken this as a reference to the 1972 Munich Olympics when 11 of their athletes were assassinated by an extremist group, Black September, said to be linked to Arafat's own Fatah faction.
Many of Sharon's predecessors have a more conciliatory attitude to Arafat, and some in his own cabinet are urging an end to this "war on terror".
But among Palestinians Sharon is widely regarded as a war criminal for his part in the 1982 invasion of Lebanon on a mission to wipe out Arafat's PLO.
Sharon's Lebanese Christian militia allies entered refugee camps to ostensibly search for Palestinian fighters and massacred between 800 and 1,000 people, including many children, in a 36-hour spree.
Meanwhile - Indymedia reports another explosion has rocked Haifa at 2:45 P.M Sunday April 31 2002 - Israel Time.
Israel's Army Radio reported that some 20 people were injured in the blast.
It was not immediately clear whether the explosion was at a gas station or in a shopping mall.
Ambulances rushed to the scene of the attack. Section of old Haifa-Tel Aviv road closed due to terror warnings.
Part of the old Haifa-Tel Aviv road was closed to traffic Sunday after warnings were received of a possible terror attack in the area.
Security forces were also on high alert Sunday morning in the Sharon area after receiving terror attack warnings.
There were major traffic jams as a result of the closing of a section on the Geha highway, especially between the Bnei Dror and Kfar Haro'eh junctions.
Drivers were asked to use Road No. 2, Israel's coastal road, to avoid delays.
Nine IDF companies transferred to police jurisdiction to help beef up security over Pesach, were to come under the IDF's command again Sunday.
Police commissioner Shlomo Aharonisky has asked the IDF to allow the police to keep the companies under their jurisdiction, to help secure city centers and the 1967 Green Line border.
Police are still receiving numerous general warnings regarding terror attacks throughout Israel, as well as more specific warnings in the Jerusalem, Tel-Aviv and Sharon areas.
IDF generals were deliberating over whether it would be better to transfer IDF forces to the police for the next several days, or whether they would be more effective as part of the army's ongoing military operation.