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Thursday, 12 October, 2000, 14:22 GMT 15:22 UK
Anger across Arab world
Egyptian students protesting in Cairo
Egyptian students accuse Israelis of shooting innocent people
By Middle East correspondent Frank Gardner

The Arab world is reacting to the recent Arab-Israeli violence with some of the biggest popular demonstrations in recent years.


I am angry because innocent people, people who don't have weapons, people who are helpless......are being shot everyday brutally

Egypt University student
From Morocco to Muscat, Arabs have poured onto the streets to vent their anger at the killing of Palestinians by Israelis.

Some have even called for a holy war to liberate Jerusalem.

In Egypt, thousands of students are taking to the streets every day with the popular chant "With our souls and with our blood, we sacrifice ourselves for Palestine".

Some are protesting at the visit by Israel's former minister Ariel Sharon to a Muslim holy site in Jerusalem two weeks ago. Most though, are enraged by the subsequent killings of nearly a hundred Palestinians by Israeli soldiers.

Sami Azer's funeral procession
Nine-year-old Sami Azer's death in Israeli gunfire has sparked anger
"I am angry because innocent people, people who don't have weapons, people who are helpless, who don't have any sort of arms to defend themselves are being shot everyday brutally," says an Egypt University student.

Israel would doubtless dispute that. The country gets a bad press here in Egypt even when the region is calm.

Siege mentality

The Israeli embassy in Cairo is surrounded by Egyptian riot police, on permanent standby for the frequent anti-Israeli protests.

The staff's families have been evacuated to Israel and the embassy has something of a siege mentality.

The Israeli ambassador, Zvi Mazel, blames a lot of local hatred on media propaganda.

"What happens is that when a normal young man in Egypt reads the papers every morning, the governmental press, certainly the opposition press, every day, well he becomes immediately anti: anti-Israeli, anti-Jewish, anti whatever anyone in Israel declares or says," Mr Mazel says.

But Egyptians don't need much prompting these days.

The tragic image of a Palestinian boy dying recently in his father's arms from Israeli gunfire, has ignited the entire Arab world.

American pressure

Beyond this anger, there is also a deep Arab resentment over the perceived injustice of the peace process.

They believe Washington is putting huge pressure on the Palestinians to accept Israel's terms which they still find unacceptable.

Yasser Arafat
Arafat has not got a fair deal: Amr Moussa
Egyptian Foreign Minister Amr Moussa, a man known for his moderation, goes to the extent of saying that Chairman Yasser Arafat has not been offered a fair deal.

In martial, revolutionary republics like Iraq, the governments say 'we told you so'.

Libya, Iraq and Iran have long opposed the peace process, saying it was biased in favour of Israel. Now Iraq is calling up volunteers to fight alongside Palestinians.

Clearly, their future is something that touches all Arabs, even those as far away as Morocco, thousands of kilometres away from the Palestinian territories.

Jerusalem

That central question is Jerusalem.

The Palestinians would like sovereignty over the holy site they call the Noble Sanctuary or Haram al-Sharif.

The site is also sacred to Jews who call it Temple Mount.

Anti-Israel demonstration
Palestine's future is an emotional issue for all Arabs
As the third holiest place in Islam, the issue concerns not just Palestinians, but Muslims all over the world.

So Mr Arafat feels he cannot sign any peace deal that does not deliver the sanctuary from Israeli control.

Against this background, the recent violence is something of a distraction.

The Secretary General of the Arab League, Esmat Abdul Meguid, believes the onus is now on Israel to create the right climate for peace talks.

"They have to show some gesture towards the Palestinians and try to put an end to this situation of shooting at people, of destroying, of committing all these acts of violence against the Palestinians."

But even when - and if - the violence stops, it will only provide a breathing space.

Unless the Arab side can win what it considers a fair deal from Israel, the threat of renewed violence will hang heavy over this whole region.

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See also:

11 Oct 00 | Media reports
Israel 'reaping Arab whirlwind'
11 Oct 00 | Middle East
Clashes fuel oil price rise
09 Oct 00 | Middle East
In pictures: Turmoil in the territories
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