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banner Wednesday, 4 October, 2000, 22:56 GMT 23:56 UK
Israeli ambassador defends troops
"Do you think it does not bother us?" Dror Zeigerman, Israeli Ambassador to the UK asked a fringe meeting held by the Conservative Friends of Israel at the Conservative Party conference in Bournemouth on Wednesday.

The ambassador was in defensive mood as he responded to questions about recent Israeli troop tactics against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

Mr Zeigerman's remarks mixed a desire to lay blame for recent violence on the shoulders of the Palestinians with appeals for a peaceful resolution to current violence.

Referring to the recent shooting of 12 year old Palestinian Muhammad al-Durrah by Israeli troops, Mr Zeigerman admitted that "every casualty is difficult to accept and understand" but remained unrepentant about Israeli use of live ammunition in confrontations with Palestinians.

No David and Goliath

"It's difficult to see what is the alternative" to photographs of dead children, he claimed, when Palestinian youths were routinely sent out to throw rocks at Israeli troops.

Pictures of Palestinians throwing rocks at heavily armed soldiers were misleading, said the ambassador. "It's not David against Goliath," he argued. Instead, Palestinians "are shooting with machine guns and would like to kill," he said.

Turning his scorn on Palestinians who, he alleged, send their children into conflict with Israeli soldiers, Mr Zeigerman asked "What politics does a 12 year old understand?"

Mr Zeigerman was cynical about Palestinian motives for distributing the picture of the shooting of Muhammad al-Durrah. Suggesting that Yasser Arafat "didn't care" about numbers of Palestinian casualties and was more concerned with the propaganda value of such images, the ambassador remarked that the Palestinians appeared to him to be "proud" of the picture.

Talking peace

But as crisis talks got under way in Paris between Mr Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, Mr Zeigerman said he felt that it was time the two countries "returned to the table" of peace talks.

Israel and Palestine had to talk "peace and not war," the ambassador said, in order to ensure that "our children and grandchildren will live in different circumstances than we have."

Turning his attention to questions over Mr Arafat's character and his commitment to peace, Mr Zeigerman was resigned. "We know who is (sic) Arafat," he said, "but he is still the one with whom we are dealing."

"We cannot ignore his problems, but he's still the main power among the Palestinians," Mr Zeigerman argued. Pausing for a moment to consider those 'problems' in detail, the ambassador alleged that "Arafat is a very good actor - when he's in trouble, he's suddenly in bad health."

More serious, he continued, was the possibility that Mr Arafat was uninterested in reaching a compromise with Israel. "For him (Arafat)," Mr Zeigerman mused, "maybe it's not enough."

Optimism for the future

From an atmosphere clearly weighed down by recent events, however, Mr Zeigerman was able to retrieve some hope.

"We have to be optimistic," the ambassador argued. That the Israeli and Palestinian states could one day live side by side was not impossible, he said. More importantly, he added, "we need peace."

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