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Wednesday, 3 October, 2001, 12:05 GMT 13:05 UK
Q&A: Mid-East violence surges

A recent escalation in violence in the Middle East comes in spite of a ceasefire agreement between the Palestinian Authority and Israel. BBC News Online looks at the crucial issues behind the violence and the efforts to calm it.

What does the continuing violence mean for Washington's war on terrorism?

The renewed violence could not have come at a more awkward time for the United States.

Washington needs the support of the Arab and Muslim world in the war against terrorism, and US officials had been hoping that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict would drop into the background, making it easier to ensure the support of Arab and Muslim governments and to carry Arab and Muslim public opinion.

What are Arab states asking of Washington in return for their backing?

Arab governments have broadly supported America's war on terror, but they have some conditions.

The main one is that Washington should pressure the Israeli Government to reduce the violence and to withdraw its army to positions held a year ago, before the start of the intifada.

Arab leaders want the word terrorism clearly defined. Earlier this week the Arab League called the Palestinians victims of modern terrorism.

Arab governments will also be pressing Mr Rumsfeld to ensure that the aims of the war on terrorism are sharply focused and civilian casualties are avoided, and they have called on the US to deliver convincing proof linking Osama Bin Laden to the attacks on America last month.

Are President Bush's comments on a Palestinian state significant?

Though President George W Bush has said the creation of a Palestinian state had always been part of Washington's vision, analysts say his comments represent a dramatic shift in the US's stated policy in the region.

The US has long accepted that a Palestinian state should result from a final Palestinian-Israeli agreement, but they have not backed the idea explicitly.

Clearly Mr Bush timed his comments to help shore up Arab and Muslim backing for military action in Afghanistan.

But diplomatic sources say his declaration, a broad regional peace initiative and a possible meeting with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat were being planned before the 11 September attacks struck.

What pressure has Washington brought to bear on both sides?

US officials put tremendous pressure on Palestinian and Israeli officials to try to relaunch a ceasefire and calm the violence.

The result was a meeting between Mr Arafat and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres at which a ceasefire and an Israeli troop pullback were agreed. There was also a statement from the Palestinian leader that Israel had the right to exist in peace.

US officials had grown tetchy with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon when he repeatedly blocked Peres-Arafat meetings and compared Mr Arafat to Osam Bin Laden. In private they criticised Mr Sharon for not doing his utmost to calm the situation.

Mr Sharon argues that he is responding to Palestinian violence and that the Palestinian Authority is failing to contain the militants.

Soon after the terrorist attacks on the US, Mr Sharon made it very clear that he would not sacrifice what he saw as Israel's national interest for Washington's desire to forge a broad war coalition.

Speaking to the Jerusalem Post Mr Sharon said: "I have made it clear to the administration, that while stability in the Middle East is important to them, and is very important to Israel, we will not pay the price for that stability. We will simply not pay it."

Is Yasser Arafat still in control?

After the Peres-Arafat ceasefire agreement at the end of September, Mr Arafat seemed sincere in trying to calm the violence and there was some security co-operation between Israelis and Palestinian security officials leading to an attack on Israel being foiled.

With the latest surge in violence, it appears that the ceasefire and the security co-operation have come to nothing whatever Mr Arafat's intentions.

Israeli officials have for a long time accused Yasser Arafat of failing to contain militant groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad who carry out attacks on Israel and on Jewish settlements.

However, analysts are now increasingly arguing that Mr Arafat is in no position to control them.

With the start of the US-led strikes on Afghanistan in early October Mr Arafat appeared even less in control. Palestinian police came down hard on protests in support of Osama Bin Laden. Three Palestinians were killed as protesters stoned and burnt buildings belonging to their own security forces in the Gaza strip.

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