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Wednesday, 3 October, 2001, 10:13 GMT 11:13 UK
Gaza violence clouds Rumsfeld mission
An Israeli soldier carries a child to safety in the Gaza Strip
Israeli forces reacted quickly after the attacks
Frank Gardner

As US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld flew towards Saudi Arabia, his trip was already being overshadowed by fresh violence in the Middle East.

The killing of Israeli settlers by Palestinians, and the subsequent Israeli attack on Gaza, could not have come at a more awkward time for the US administration.

Arab concerns
Restrain Israel
Define 'terrorism'
Limit Muslim casualties
Provide proof of Bin Laden's guilt
Maintain low profile for western military action in Gulf
Mr Rumsfeld's visit to Riyadh is the first leg of a four-nation tour to shore up support for America's war on terrorism.

He is also expected to visit Egypt, Oman and Uzbekistan.

President George W Bush badly needs the support of the Arab and Muslim world in his war against global terror.

He had been hoping to keep the Israeli Palestinian conflict out of the news while he concentrated on building up an international coalition.

Broad support

Now, Israel's attack on the Palestinian city of Gaza is bound to intrude on Mr Rumsfeld's discussions with Arab leaders.

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

They want the word terrorism clearly defined.

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld
Donald Rumsfeld wants to reassure Muslim countries
Earlier this week, the 22-member Arab League called the Palestinians victims of modern terrorism.

Arab leaders will be urging Mr Rumsfeld to restrain Israel or risk losing the support of the Arab world.

Over the next few days, he will hear other concerns too from the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Oman.

They are all playing host to western forces, a fact that could prove embarrassing if any western military action in Afghanistan leads to Muslim casualties.

Arab leaders will urge Mr Rumsfeld to keep those casualties to a minimum.

They would also like to be shown some proof that links Osama Bin Laden or the Taleban to the attacks on the US on 11 September.

Until that proof is provided, there is a deepening suspicion among many ordinary Arabs that their region is being dragged into a military campaign that they do not support.

See also:

03 Oct 01 | Middle East
Mid-East blow to US campaign
02 Oct 01 | Middle East
Bush 'endorses' Palestinian state
30 Sep 01 | Middle East
Israel gives Arafat ceasefire ultimatum
10 May 01 | Middle East
Claiming the 'Promised Land'
19 Oct 00 | Middle East
Who are Hamas?
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