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Friday, 1 March, 2002, 07:43 GMT
Timing of Israeli attacks debated
A Palestinian woman carries her child past a burnt out car in the West Bank town of Nablus
Twelve people have been killed in recent raids
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By the BBC's Barbara Plett

Israel's biggest assault on West Bank refugee camps comes at a time when officials had cautiously welcomed a Saudi Arabian peace initiative.

The raids are a deliberate attempt to abort the Saudi initiative

Palestinian analyst Ghassan Khatib
Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah recently floated the offer of full Arab peace, along with normal diplomatic ties, in return for a full Israeli withdrawal from occupied Arab land.

Although this is more a statement of ideas than a peace proposal, it has revived flagging efforts to establish a political exit from the violence.

So why, then, did the Israelis choose this moment to raid camps near Nablus and Jenin, with troops backed by tanks and helicopter gunships, killing at least 10 Palestinians and injuring at least 80?


The short answer from Israeli analysts is that there is no connection between the Saudi peace initiative and the West Bank military operations.

When the Saudis come up with initiatives, it's usually because they want something from the Americans

Professor Gerald Steinberg, Bar Ilan University
The raids were viewed as "part of the tactics of fighting the Palestinian uprising," said David Landau of the left wing Haaretz newspaper, not part of the strategy of "how Israel conducts itself in the region."

The army has said recent attacks against Israelis were planned and carried out by militants from these camps.

And while some Israeli officials indicated the Saudi initiative was a positive move, Gerald Steinberg, a professor of political studies at the Bar Ilan University in Israel, said they were also deeply sceptical.

"When the Saudis come up with initiatives, it's usually because they want something from the Americans," he said.

"So the government is waiting to see whether this proposal has gone anywhere a month from now."

'Exacerbating the situation'

In the Arab world commentators do see Israel's military operations as its answer to the peace moves of the moment.

An Israeli soldier
The Israeli army says militants in the camps are responsible for attacks against Israelis
"The raids are a deliberate attempt to abort the Saudi initiative," said Palestinian analyst Ghassan Khatib.

He noted that they came at a time when the two sides had been making efforts to calm things down.

And they hit at the main strongholds of the Palestinian militias, which was guaranteed to bring a nasty response.

Chemi Shalev of the Maariv newspaper said the army had "a recurring tendency to carry out operations which it knew would exacerbate the situation".

He said this was either "because the government is under pressure to act and does so despite the consequences, or because the army is indeed interested in escalation".

"But I don't think the Saudi initiative has reached the stage of affecting the day-to-day policies of the Israelis," he added.

Public's response

Mr Shalev also noted that not all Israeli officials have welcomed the Saudi proposal.

Those on the political right may not have attacked it for tactical reasons, but it clearly did not suit them because it called for an Israeli withdrawal to the borders that existed before the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

But although this part does not suit almost everyone in this government, the Israeli public has shown great interest in the initiative.

See also:

28 Feb 02 | Middle East
Israel targets refugee camps
28 Feb 02 | Middle East
Woman bomber attacks Israelis
27 Feb 02 | Media reports
Saudi move stirs regional hopes
21 Feb 02 | Middle East
Israelis look for key to peace
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