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Monday, 6 January, 2003, 17:02 GMT
Press weighs bombing response
Israeli papers are anxiously awaiting the Israeli Government's response to Sunday's suicide attack in Tel Aviv that left 23 people dead and over 60 others injured.
Writing in the liberal independent daily Ha'aretz, commentator Yossi Verter suggests the attack will only boost Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's chances of winning the election later this month.
"The agenda of Israel's election campaign... changed abruptly last night. From being permanently on the defensive, Sharon moved to his favourite position: the stance of a prime minister.. who calls security meetings in the dead of night..."
But this can only be short-lived, the writer says.
"Likud leaders had no illusions yesterday. In a day or two, the previous agenda will reassert itself and charges of corruption will return to the headlines. Last night no one in politics could predict where all this would lead."
'Government in bind'
The centrist mass-circulation Yedi'ot Aharonot is preoccupied with similar thoughts.
"Like any decent Israeli, Sharon is angry and hurting. He also understands the bind his government is in. It cannot end the conflict by force; it will not attempt to end it through negotiations; and it does not want to end it in real separation, which would mean evacuating settlements."
The government "is a captive of the status quo and there is not a glimpse of light at the end of the tunnel," the writer despairs.
Difficult choicesYedi'ot Aharonot accuses the government of being obsessed with deporting the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat. This, the daily worries, will only have a counterproductive effect.
"Sharon knows and they know that deporting Arafat now, on the eve of the attack in Iraq, when there is no proof that the Palestinian Authority is even connected to the terror attack in any way, would be like declaring a war on the Bush Administration, a war Israel cannot afford at this time."
The daily notes that despite the success of some "impressive operational achievements" during Mr Sharon's two years in office, the current situation is "intolerable".
"Many of the organizations' commanding echelons were detained or eliminated; terror attacks were prevented; the PA was neutralized in most of the West Bank and castrated in Gaza."
But "Painful as it is", Yedi'ot Aharonot adds, "the truth must be said: this is a terrible, horrifying failure."
Another commentary in the same paper says instead of dealing with "the local Palestinian terror organization leaders" Israel should strike "at their command posts in Damascus".
"Yet, those who are really behind the human Scuds - those who finance, guide, train, and encourage them - are to be found abroad, mainly in Damascus, but also in Beirut and Jordan."
It calls on the US to exert pressure on Syria.
"Israel cannot collect the price from abroad today because it is under the constraints of the imminent confrontation in Iraq. The United States, demanding that Israel hold back at all cost, applies the constraints, just like it did when real Scuds were fired at us in 1991."
"Israel, however, can turn its restraint into a political lever that would apply pressure on Syria. In return for its restraint, Israel should demand that the Americans, at least, pressure the Syrians to immediately expel the Palestinian terror organization offices from Damascus."
Signs of weariness
The independent Ma'ariv daily agrees that Mr Arafat's expulsion is not a viable option.
It notes that both the Palestinians and Israeli forces are tired of the relentless violence.
"As before, the double terror attack last night took place just when the defence establishment was beginning to speak about signs of weariness on the Palestinian side."
It says that Israeli military intelligence recently suggested that a growing number of Palestinians was dissatisfied with the intifada and "yearning for calm".
The daily has some harsh words both for "the Arafat's people behind the attack" and Syria.
It warns the Palestinians that failure to realize that opting for "terror" will eventually hurt them.
"The Palestinian organizations' inability to stop and reassess their situation will eventually harm them. The fact that Assad and Arafat are not willing to curb terror attacks will only exacerbate the process.
"Palestinian terror is still active and, occasionally, it can even hurt us badly, but all of this will change after the war in Iraq. It seems that the Palestinians have not understood this yet."
BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.
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