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Last Updated: Tuesday, 14 March 2006, 21:27 GMT
Jail raid reflects Mid-East tensions
By Jeremy Bowen
BBC Middle East editor

Gunmen outside the burning British Council in Gaza
The British Council in Gaza was one of several European targets

Now that the Palestinian militant Ahmed Saadat is in custody in Israel, the street-level anger witnessed on Tuesday is likely to subside - as long as there is no further Israeli violence in the coming days.

The question now is what Saadat's Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) will do.

It has already said it will retaliate against Israel.

But does it have the capability to carry out revenge attacks, and will Israel be able to thwart them?

So why did this all happen now?

The British have not given any concrete reasons for why they pulled their monitors out of the prison in Jericho, other than because of security fears.

Certainly, for a long time the Palestinians have not been keeping to the rules they were meant to be following for running this particular prison.

Viewed from the perspective of a young Palestinian man, it must look like the Europeans have joined the whole world that is against them.

But there is a new element of uncertainty - from the perspective of UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and others - with the advent of the administration led by the Islamic militant group, Hamas.

Will Hamas, which won democratic elections in January, consider themselves bound to honour agreements signed by previous Palestinian administrations?

Hamas has said it will not recognise Israel, but it has hinted at continuity.

From the perspective of the Israeli leadership, which goes to the polls on 28 March, it is easy to see why this raid on the prison might be an attractive operation.

Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has been losing points in opinion polls because he does not have a strong military background - certainly not like his predecessor Ariel Sharon.

He can certainly expect a consolidation of his political position after this.

Collusion claims

There have been allegations of collusion with the Israelis over the timing of the pull-out of the UK and US monitors from the prison.

This would not be unprecedented.

Looking back over the history of the Israel-Arab conflict, there are some examples of collusion between the British and the Israelis, and the Americans and the Israelis.

However, at this point, the evidence is not necessarily pointing in that direction.

Britain says it emphatically told the Palestinian Authority a few days ago that this was going to happen. It also had to tell the Israelis under the terms of the agreement under which this prison was organised.

There is also a pretty good chance the Israelis would have learned about the pull-out from a variety of other sources.

Jericho is a small, sleepy enclave, with high mountains to one side, and Israelis all around it. They also have high-tech surveillance mechanisms, and have comprehensively penetrated the Palestinian security forces.

Kidnap fears

The threat of further kidnappings will be very worrying for foreigners in the Palestinian territories.

But it is not the same situation as in Iraq. Until now foreigners kidnapped by Palestinians have been released unharmed. The fear is that one day that may change.

Europeans especially have been used to getting a warm reception when they visit the Palestinian territories, partly because they are assumed by many Palestinians to be on their side.

But that attitude is changing. First there were the cartoons satirising the Prophet Muhammad in a Danish newspaper, then the European Union joined a fairly frosty reaction to the results of the elections and now this.

Viewed from the Palestinian perspective, it must look as though the Europeans have joined the whole world that is against them.

Certainly the way the violence boiled up so quickly on Tuesday is a sign of the rage and tension on the Palestinian side.

It is a worry for the Palestinians, but it is also a worry for the foreigners working in their midst who, it must be said, do a great deal to keep the Palestinian society going.




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