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Sunday, 23 June, 2002, 22:16 GMT 23:16 UK
Analysis: Israel's search for answers
Suicide bombing in Jerusalem
Suicide bomings are proving impossible to stop

For all the furore about remarks on suicide "terrorism" by Cherie Blair, wife of the UK prime minster, Israeli Defence Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer has spoken in remarkably similar terms about what motivates young Palestinians to turn themselves into walking bombs.

The code that connects [the suicide bombers]... is the despair that people come to

Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, Israeli defence minister
Mrs Blair - in remarks she later retracted - said that many bombers felt they had "no hope but to blow themselves up".

After meeting two jailed would-be suicide attackers, Mr Ben-Eliezer appeared to suggest that Israel's own military actions might be partly responsible for creating a Palestinian "incubator of terror".

He told Haaretz newspaper that Israeli army actions, though necessary, kindled the "frustration, hatred and despair" that allowed militant organisations to "seduce" young Palestinians.

"If you ask me what is, in fact, the code that connects them, it is the despair that people come to," the defence minister said.

"Certainly, there is misery. Certainly, there is frustration. Certainly they feel hopelessness."

Reluctant bomber

One of Mr Ben-Eliezer's prison visits was to Arien Ahmed, a 20-year-old Palestinian woman who was sent to Israel to die in a suicide mission - but who changed her mind at the last moment.

Binyamin Ben-Eliezer
Ben-Eliezer came face-to-face with would-be bombers

The Israeli defence minister frankly admitted that suicide bombers were difficult to combat as well as difficult to understand.

It is certainly true that while the bombers are a weapon of the weak, the Palestinian militants know they are also their most brutally effective weapon.

Most worrying for the Israelis, there is no shortage of volunteers to carry out bombing missions.

Rather, the difficulty for the militant groups seems to be building new bombs as quickly as there are fresh candidates for martyrdom.

Women and children

And the net for suicide volunteers is cast very wide.

Suicide bomber Ayat Ahkras, who killed two people at a Jerusalem supermarket
Palestinian women have counted among the suicide bombers

Arien Ahmed was a student of business administration, winning a scholarship to Bethlehem University.

She was not a member of Hamas or Islamic Jihad.

She was one of seven women suicide attackers.

Three found their targets and four were arrested, including the mother of a three-year-old .

The Israelis also say they have detained a 12-year-old Palestinian boy who was trying to go on a suicide mission.

Surge in violence

There have been around 120 Palestinian suicide bombings or shootings since the start of the conflict in November 2000.

That compares with 60 attacks over the whole period of the "Oslo peace" - 1993-2000.

Al-Aqsa Brigades fighter
Militants reject any accomodation with Israel

It may be that the attacks can never be stopped, only reduced in number.

The bombs are very simple to make.

Groups like Hamas view any possible ceasefire they might enter into as purely tactical.

And in any peace process there will always be hardliners who reject whatever deal is on offer.

The task for the international community now is to reinvigorate the peace process to remove support among the Palestinian population at large for the attacks, cut off international funding for the bombers from rogue states, and even draw the militant groups into talks.

One hopeful sign is that on Wednesday, a group of 55 Palestinian intellectuals published a letter in the Arabic-language newspaper, Al Quds, calling for a halt to attacks on Israeli civilians.

Military response

But for the moment the Israelis are seeking a military solution.

Israeli soldiers
Israel has pledged to crush the militants

During Operation Defensive Shield two months ago - Israel's biggest military offensive for 20 years - the bombings did stop for a time. Then they resumed.

This time - in the words of one official briefing the Israeli Press - the gloves are coming off.

Israeli troops will remain the West Bank for as long as it takes to root out what are described as "terrorists' nests".

Suspected terrorists will be sent into permanent exile.

Even their families could be deported from the West Bank to Gaza.

Physical separation

Finally, a massive wall is being built, perhaps along much of Israel's 1967 border with the West Bank.

Israeli tank infront of West Bank fence
Israel is building a protective wall

The Israeli Government delayed work on this for many months, fearing it would cut off Jewish settlements in the West Bank and the land many Jews believe is historically their's.

The spate of suicide attacks has finally forced the Israeli Government to start construction on the wall.

If it works, it may turn out to be much more than a security measure, but the final push to a peace deal based on the complete separation of the two peoples.

Key stories




See also:

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