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Tuesday, 5 March, 2002, 12:09 GMT
Analysis: Conflict reaches new intensity
A Palestinian woman stands amid twisted metal after an explosion in Gaza
Action has gone beyond the cycle of attack and reprisal
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By Nick Childs
BBC World Affairs Correspondent

The latest violence in the Middle East has taken the confrontation between Israel and the Palestinians to another level.

Each side continues to blame the other for the upsurge.

But there appears to be a new, prolonged level of action and attacks on both sides which go beyond the usual cycle of attack and reprisal.

Late on Sunday night, Israel's security cabinet promised a campaign of sustained military pressure on the Palestinians.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in the Knesset
Some believe Mr Sharon is following a centrist line

Israeli officials from Prime Minister Ariel Sharon downwards talk more and more of a "war of attrition", with the obvious implication that Israel is determined to win it.

But from the perspective of Palestinian militant groups, there has been a spate of increasingly effective strikes against Israelis which have shaken Israeli public opinion.

Many Israelis believe Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat recognises that as well.

On the surface, the Israeli Government has rallied behind a new military crackdown.

But behind the scenes, ministers are at odds over tactics.

Conflicting pressures

Mr Sharon and Defence Minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer are said to have strong differences on, for example, whether or not to slap new restrictions on Mr Arafat.

They are also said to disagree on whether to continue any sort of dialogue with the Palestinians at the moment.

Some commentators suggest Mr Sharon is actually taking a centrist line, to preserve his government, in the face of calls for even tougher action from his right wing.

The Palestinian leadership, too, faces strains between an old guard and a new, younger, upcoming leadership.

The outcome of these conflicting pressures will dictate where, if anywhere, these latest unfolding events will lead.

See also:

05 Mar 02 | Middle East
Israel hit by fresh suicide attacks
04 Mar 02 | Media reports
Israeli cabinet clash over Arafat
04 Mar 02 | Middle East
Analysis: Sniper stuns Israeli army
03 Mar 02 | Middle East
Israel on the defensive
20 Feb 02 | Middle East
Q&A: Middle East conflict
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