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Review of 2001 Wednesday, 2 January, 2002, 09:25 GMT
Middle East peace retreats in 2001
Israeli tanks ring Jenin in September
Israeli tank on the edge of the Palestinian town of Jenin
More than 1,000 people died in another grim year of conflict in the Middle East. BBC News Online's Tarik Kafala, who recently returned from the region, looks back at the key events.

Sharon elected:

In February, Ariel Sharon - a man much criticised for his role in the Sabra and Shatila massacres in Lebanon in 1982 - was overwhelmingly elected as Israeli prime minister.

Voters threw out Ehud Barak because he had failed to deliver a long-promised agreement with the Palestinians and because they felt that Mr Sharon was best equipped to deal with the security challenges posed by the Palestinian intifada.

The attack in August killed 15 people
The devastating suicide attack on a pizzeria in West Jerusalem
Mr Sharon promised that there would be no negotiating with the Palestinians as long as there was Palestinian violence.

He also went about building an impressive national unity government that included the relatively dovish Shimon Peres as foreign minister and deputy prime minister.

Cycle of violence:

The intifada, or uprising, began in October 2000 - fuelled by resentment at the failure of the peace process and the visit of Mr Sharon to the Haram al-Sharif or Temple Mount before he became prime minister. The site is sacred to both Jews and Muslims but his visit was seen by Palestinians as provocative.

The funeral of Abdou Abu Bakra, a Fatah member killed in a clash with the Israeli army
The cycle of violence was fuelled by funerals that drew massive crowds of mourners
Towards the middle of the year, the street protests in which Palestinian stone throwers confronted Israeli troops largely died out.

The intifada became characterised by gun battles between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian militias and attacks on Jewish settlers. Some of these actions were carried out by forces close to Yasser Arafat.

The year also saw a long line of bloody suicide attacks inside Israel committed by Hamas and Islamic Jihad militants.

The Israeli response escalated. F-16 jets and Apache gunship helicopters were regularly deployed. Israeli troop incursions into Palestinian controlled areas, including built-up city centres, also increased.

There have been house demolitions, the clearing of fields, and the destruction of olive groves. The closure of the Palestinian territories led to a blockading of towns and villages that has devastated the Palestinian economy.

The conflict evolved into a cycle of violence. Israel would respond to a suicide attack in Israel or an attack on settlers with the assassination of a Hamas or Islamic Jihad leader.

The Qalandiya crossing into Ramallah from Jerusalem
Israeli checkpoints are a source of tension and the closure has devastated the Palestinian economy
The militants then declared that they would seek bloody revenge.

The cycle took a dangerous turn in October when the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine assassinated right-wing Israeli cabinet minister Rehavam Zeevi.

The attack was itself retaliation for the killing of the leader of the Popular Front for the liberation of Palestine, Abu Ali Mustafa.

Later in the year, the Palestinian Authority and its infrastructure became the main target of Israeli military attacks - it looked like Mr Sharon had decided to neutralise Mr Arafat and his authority.

US diplomacy:

The victory of George W Bush in the US presidential elections meant that Washington largely withdrew from active involvement in Middle East diplomacy.

The contrast with the personal engagement of former President Bill Clinton could not have been starker.

President Bush did say in October that the creation of a Palestinian state had always been part of the US vision for the Middle East.

Fifteen people were killed in a Haifa suicide bomb attack in December
The aftermath of a suicide attack in Haifa, northern Israel
But in November, US Secretary of State Colin Powell announced greater US involvement in the region, starting with the appointment of two envoys - though both were back in Washington by the year's end having achieved nothing substantial.

The main US intervention in the region came from Senator George Mitchell.

His report, delivered in May, drew together the main causes of the violence behind the intifada. His criticism of both sides was even handed and he made some unpalatable recommendations.

Though the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli Government officially accepted the Mitchell Report, neither has acted on its recommendations.

The report remains the most significant attempt to bring the two sides closer and end the violence.

Crisis deepens:

In December, after a series of suicide attacks in Israel and attacks on settlers in Gaza and the West Bank, Mr Sharon declared the Mr Arafat "irrelevant" and cut off relations with the Palestinian Authority (PA).

Israeli soldiers in Hebron in September
The anniversary of the intifada saw clashes in Hebron
Critics of Mr Sharon saw this as the culmination of a long drawn out and successfully executed plan to sideline Mr Arafat and to bury the Oslo peace process.

Mr Sharon has for a long time been an opponent of the Oslo process, and most importantly the land-for-peace principle at its heart.

By declaring Mr Arafat irrelevant, Mr Sharon seemed to suggest that since the Palestinian leader could not or would not prevent attacks on Israel and the settlements it was no longer worth pursuing a dialogue with him.

December: A Palestinian policeman inspects the damage done by Israeli air strikes
Late in the year, the Palestinian Authority became the main target of the Israeli army
The Palestinian people as a whole continue to offer their beleaguered figurehead their backing. This though is matched by ever-growing grassroots support for Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

There is also strong Palestinian opposition to attempts by Mr Arafat's security forces to clamp down on the Islamic militants and the social services these organisations provide.

Looking ahead to the early part of 2002, it is hard to see how either side can pull back from the violence, especially as the Israeli Government is refusing to recognise Mr Arafat.

But at present Israel has no real alternative to Mr Arafat if it wants to continue a dialogue with the Palestinians.

Israeli and Palestinian security officials have met and Mr Arafat has bowed to Israeli and International pressure by arresting some of his own police officers who Israel accuses of shooting at settlers in the West Bank. Hamas has also offered a suspension of its suicide bombings - though the situation remains very fragile

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