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Friday, April 9, 1999 Published at 18:49 GMT 19:49 UK


Israel divided on Kosovo

Thousands gathered in Tel Aviv for a fundraising rock concert

By Hilary Andersson in Tel Aviv

The crisis in Kosovo has sparked a political row in Israel - one of America's closest allies.

Kosovo: Special Report
For ordinary Israelis, the echoes of history are all too clear. The ethnic cleansing of ethnic Albanian refugees in Kosovo provokes disturbing memories of the past.

Thousands of people flocked to Tel Aviv's central square for a rally in support of the refugees.

Hilary Andersson: "The echoes of history are all too clear"
The country's top singers sang messages of support and the event - Israel Must Help - raised thousands of dollars. The country, normally obsessed with its own problems, for once had a different focus.

On Macedonia's border with Kosovo the only hospital for miles has been set up by Israelis.

[ image: Some Israelis have demonstrated in support of Serbs]
Some Israelis have demonstrated in support of Serbs
The issues at stake in Kosovo have profound resonance in a country which was built by the victims of the worst episode of ethnic cleansing this century, the Holocaust.

However, the leaders of what is one of America's key foreign allies are in disagreement over their Kosovo policy.

Israeli Foreign minister Ariel Sharon has been quoted as saying that Nato's involvement could give birth to a dangerous Islamic state in Kosovo and lead to global instability.

The US is offended by his comments, but key right-wingers here share his reservations.

[ image: Israelis have been providing medical support]
Israelis have been providing medical support
Knesset member Michael Kleiner said: "The bombardment of Belgrade and other cities and the civilian population also in Yugoslavia is doubtful, especially after the Serbs announced their readiness for a ceasefire."

In contrast, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has distanced himself from the ruckus, expressing his support for Nato.

He even hosted a Kosovan refugee family to a meal at his residence in a bid to woo public support.

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