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Tuesday, 5 March, 2002, 15:21 GMT
Head to head: Mid-East violence surges
Israeli army in Balata refugee camp in the West Bank on 2 March
The Israeli army goes after Palestinian militants in a refugee camp
Violence in the Middle East is surging, as large numbers of Israelis and Palestinians are being killed every day.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has said the Palestinians must suffer heavy losses so that they understand they will not get anything through terrorism.

BBC News Online takes the views of Israeli and Palestinian spokespeople on the deteriorating situation.

Saeb Erekat, senior Palestinian negotiator:

This is very unfortunate and very scary. And it reflects the kind of person that Mr Sharon is. And I really hope that Israelis and the international community will understand that the nature of this Israeli Government is all about war and destruction.

We do not condone the killing of Israeli or Palestinian civilians.

I do not know what it is going to take to convince the likes of Sharon that the solution to this is not going to be through the gun, through the shelling, the siege, the closure, the assassinations, the killing of women and children and so on.

It needs a political solution, it needs a meaningful peace process.

There were recently 57 Palestinians killed in 24 four hours. There were a Palestinian mother and her three children killed, and burnt alive in their car by the Israeli army.

I am not saying that any killing is justified. I am not saying that the killing of Israelis is justified. What I am asking is, how do you stop this?

I blame Sharon for everything - yes I do. Since he came to office 12 months ago, he suspended the negotiations, he rejected the Mitchell report, he rejected Tenet, he rejected monitors, and now he rejects the Saudi Arabian ideas.

  Click here for text of the Mitchell Report

It is a very bad situation, we need help. My job is to save lives of Palestinians and Israelis, and I don't know any way to save lives other than resuming meaningful negotiations that will end the Israeli occupation and establish a Palestinian state next to the state of Israel.

The situation is going from bad to worse, and I don't think we have seen the worst yet.

When you kill hope in the minds of Palestinians and Israelis that peace is achievable, what do you think the outcome will be?

If people like me go in public and say that the peace process is no longer possible, believe me what we are seeing today will be the tip of the iceberg.

I am a father of four. I have committed my life to making peace. As long as the sun still shines, Palestinians and Israelis will some day make peace.

This is not a zero sum game as Sharon likes to play it. We cannot stick to Sharon's idea that there is a winner and a loser.

Zalman Shoval, advisor to the Israeli prime minister:

There is a great deal of public pressure on the government to act more forcefully militarily against the Palestinians.

We have seen over the last few weeks a wave of increased terror and bloodshed. One cannot really see this as a military operation on the part of the Palestinians. It is pure murder, bloodshed and terrorism.

The people feel that we have acted with too much restraint, for whatever reason - whether they are international, local or operational reasons. And the government, like any government in a democracy will have to pay attention.

There have been civilians killed on the Palestinian side, which is a tragedy. Whenever a child is killed, it hurts me whether it is a Palestinian or an Israeli. But, these deaths [of a mother and three children in Ramallah] were the result of an accident, they were not targeted deliberately. But when you go and fire a machine gun at a cafe or restaurant in Tel Aviv, you know you are going to hurt only civilians.

It can be said about any war that it will lead to more people dying. But this is not some sort of improvisation on the part of the Palestinians.

Yasser Arafat, for his own political reasons and a mistaken strategy, has embarked on an increased wave of terror against Israel. He thinks that this will eventually put Israel in a bad situation where there is international pressure on it.

Whatever the reason may be, this is not just some sort of accidental increase of a cycle of violence. It is a strategy of terror against which we are still looking for the right way to defend ourselves.

I don't want to sound overly pessimistic, but I think we have to realistic. We have tried, all Israeli Governments have tried, to engage the Palestinians under the leadership of Arafat in a process of political negotiations in order to arrive at peace and security for both people.

Unfortunately Arafat has never honoured any single commitment he made. I'm afraid that as long as Mr Arafat is there the chances of a real peace agreement where both side will be able to live in peace and security are slim.

Therefore one has to hope that a different echelon of Palestinian leadership, and they are there, will become more realistic and realise the Palestinians are not going to get anything as a result of terror. Though they may get a great deal as a result of negotiated agreement with the Israelis.

We have had experiences with all kinds of initiatives, including a Saudi one back in 1981. Nothing really came out of it but we are always hopeful.

One of the negative interpretations of this initiative could be that the Saudis want to obliterate UN resolution 242. This has been the agreed upon basis for talks between us and the Arabs all these years. Now if you put certain preconditions like a return of Israel to the 1967 Green Line, this makes things much more difficult.

  Click here for text of Resolution 242

But I am not giving up hope. We have sent emissaries and are trying to get more information. If the Saudis are serious and if they get the support of other Arab countries - and so far I understand that Syria, Libya and Iran are opposing this initiative - then there may some sort of green light, or yellow light at least, at the end of the road. We are not saying no, but one has to learn more about what's really behind it before on before we can proceed.

The BBC's Jeremy Cooke
"There is much anger which promises still more violence"
Zalman Shoval, advisor to the Israeli prime minister
"There is a great deal of pubic pressure on the government to act more forcefully"
Saeb Erekat, senior Palestinian negotiator
"I don't know any other way to save lives other than resuming meaningful negotiations"
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