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Friday, 14 September, 2001, 09:32 GMT 10:32 UK
The BBC's Barbara Plett in Jerusalem
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Middle East leaders have condemned the attacks in the United States as unimaginable and horrible.

But on the streets of Arab capitals, many people say they are not surprised and a few have even celebrating, seeing the attacks as punishment for America's support for Israel.

As the US and the rest of the world considers it's response to Tuesday's attacks, what has been the effect of the tragedy on US-Arab relations and the Middle East process?

The BBC's correspondent Barbara Plett answered a selection of your questions in a live forum.



Newshost:

Barbara, what is the military situation there now? Describe what has been happening in the last couple of days.


Barbara Plett:

The Israeli troops have sealed off two towns in the West Bank: Jenin in the north and Jericho in the south, near the Dead Sea. They moved into the town of Jericho overnight but have now returned back after exchanges of fire. So they are definitely increasing the military pressure on Yasser Arafat as well as public pressure. We are told that Ariel Sharon, the Prime Minister, in a conversation with Colin Powell, called him the Osama Bin Laden of Israel. So we can see very clearly what his thoughts and his ideas are about his once peace partner.

But we are also told that there are efforts still on track to try to get peace talks, or I should say, just talks between Shimon Peres, the Foreign Minister and Yasser Arafat. That was in process before the New York terror attacks and it appears that there are now efforts to continue to try to get the two together to talk about a possible ceasefire.


Newshost:

Do you see the increased military activity as being a direct consequence of what happened in New York and Washington?


Barbara Plett:

I think we have to be quite careful with making that connection. The Israelis have gone into Palestinian controlled towns before. They had surrounded Jenin, for instance, the town in the north before the attack in New York and they did that, they said, because they were responding to a suicide bombing in Israel on Sunday. They say that the suicide bombers come from a particular area in the West Bank - the area of Jenin - and so they had gone in in response to that. The incursion into Jericho, the army says was also related to an attack that took place on Sunday.

But having said all that, there are indications that the Israeli army is prepared to step up the pressure after the attack. First of all because it's clear that terrorism is a threat although the Palestinian militants - the violence that they wage is not called terrorism by most people in the world - most people see it as resistance to occupation. The Israelis have tried to call it terrorism for quite a long time and it seems that in the wake of the attacks in New York they might get more world sympathy for that view. Or if not, at least they might get less criticism of some of their very harsh military tactics.


Newshost:

Marty and Mike Reimer, Egypt ask: Are you seeing any Palestinians who are unhappy about the attacks? Is the media only showing those celebrating because it's such an outrageous reaction, but ignoring those who are sad about it, or aren't there any who disapprove?


Barbara Plett:

There are many who are sad about the attacks. Of course the pictures of the people celebrating were the ones that were sent around the world but in actual fact that didn't take place in very many parts of the Palestinian territories. It took place in one or two towns in the West Bank. After the attack most of the territories were quiet and people were watching their televisions, just as closely as people around the world. Many Palestinians have expressed sorrow, regret - they have expressed solidarity with the victims. They say they know what it's like to be victims of violence - it has to be said that the Israelis are also saying that. But many Palestinians say that they don't believe that civilians should be victims of an attack.

There is, it has to be said, quite a lot of anger against the government of the United States because people here in the Palestinian territories believe that the United States is uncritically supporting Israel - giving it very sophisticated weapons which are being used by the Israelis against the Palestinians. So there is a lot of anger which was against the United States government which is what was behind those scenes of celebration. But many people are making the distinction between the government and the civilians.


Newshost:

We saw Yassar Arafat giving blood in symbolic support for the people of New York. James Tilley, USA asks: Why do you think people like Muammar Gaddifi and Yasser Arafat have expressed their condolences or offered support?


Barbara Plett:

Well, it was a horrific attack and we believe thousands and thousands of people were killed. So in that sense we have to assume that they are responding on a human level. In terms of Yasser Arafat, it is not in his interest to be seen celebrating an attack against the United States. Although his people are very angry with the government of the US, Yassar Arafat himself and the leadership here would really like to see a stronger involvement of the United States in trying to negotiate an end to the conflict. They say that the US is biased towards Israel but they would like more of a heavy-handed diplomatic effort by the United States to listen to both sides and try to help address the issues on both sides. In terms of Muammar Gaddafi, he is not the only one of the states that might not have been expected to make those remarks. Sudan and Iran said the same - I think it was just a very big human tragedy.


Newshost:

Omar Al-Huq, Kuala Lumpar, Malaysia asks: To what extent do you feel pressure will come on the dictatorships of the Middle East, especially with regards to Saudi Arabia, who will now find themselves in a delicate situation with US forces based there and "retaliation" imminent?


Barbara Plett:

I think that is just increasing pressure on a situation that has existed for a long time. If Osama Bin Laden is behind this attack or at least Islamic militant groups that are associated with him - we do know that one of their big grievances is what they call American colonialism which is to have forces based in the Gulf area which happened after the 1991 Gulf War. So the attacks that took place in Saudi Arabia - I believe two of them against US soldiers twice in the past decade - were also connected to the fact that there are many people - many militants in particular - who do not see the presence of US troops as something that should be happening. They see it as an affront to Islam as well to their national interest. So I assume that the pressure will increase on the governments who are hosting these troops.


Newshost:

Aki Husain, London, UK asks: Don't you think its true that people like Osama Bin Laden merely use the Arab-Israeli conflict as an excuse to attack Western countries in order to promote their own glory and power (as well as extremely bigoted views)? Is that an opinion that is widely shared in the Middle East?


Barbara Plett:

I don't think that Osama Bin Laden is seen in the Middle East with quite as much mystique and as somebody who has quite as much power as the United States seems to give him. I don't think that Osama Bin Laden behaves personally in a way that would assume he is trying to achieve glory and power. He lives in a camp somewhere in Afghanistan which is very hard to locate. We are told he is a modest man. Even when he is interviewed or his aides are interviewed he often doesn't say that much in terms of projecting himself. So in that sense it is possible that the United States sees him as being capable of a lot of things that maybe people in the Middle East might not see. It has to be said however that he does have a lot of sympathy.

The connection to many of the Islamic militants in the Middle East is from Afghanistan because a lot of Arabs fought during the war in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union and Osama Bin Laden was there at the time, helping with money and helping with training. So they do have connections to him. There are many people throughout the Arab world who support him. I would say that the network is probably seen as a little bit less tight in the Middle East than you might see it in the United States. I don't think that Osama Bin Laden really is somebody who is seen as trying to project himself as the head of a cause.


Newshost:

Simon Walker, London, UK asks: What can the US and her allies do to address extreme anti-American feelings?

Mark Layton, Utrecht, The Netherlands asks: In the longer term a more even handed approach to America's Middle East policy would probably reduce terrorist activity aimed against America. What do you think?


Barbara Plett:

There is no doubt that there is a huge amount of anger here about the US policy in the Middle East on two fronts. The first is the United States support for Israel which is seen to be - especially over the last year - to have been very, very uncritical and that the United States supports Israel in its fight against the Palestinians in the Intifada. But of course this perception existed before the Palestinian uprising, it is just that it has increased over the past year particularly with the use of American weapons in the Intifada.

The second is US policy to Iraq - that the United States is spearheading UN policy that is quite punitive in Iraq and has made Saddam Hussein into this international bogeyman and is very, very strict about UN resolutions and how they are applied to Iraq but less strict about UN resolutions and how they are applied to Israel. The two are connected although the United States does not like to connect different countries or different areas and try to deal with them as a whole.

I think that this is something that US policy makers have to take seriously if they want to prevent terrorism. I can't say exactly what they should do. I think that it is important though for the US policy makers not to view this attack in New York as simply the action of radical Islamic militants that are simply religious fanatics and that are irrational and just hate the United States for no reason. There are political grievances there. They have to do with US policy and they have to with also governments in the region that are supporting policies that many of their peoples don't like.


Newshost:

Jonathan Tepper, London, UK asks: How much intelligence assistance can the Israeli intelligence agency, Mosad, offer now to America in regards to Arabic groups?


Barbara Plett:

I think quite a lot. The Israeli intelligence is quite extensive. Certainly on a small scale within the Palestinian territories the intelligence is pervasive but also in terms of groups that they feel might be willing to attack them. Mosad has a great deal of information that they could be giving to the CIA and we do know that the CIA has contacted Israeli intelligence and asked for any information possible. Of course we have to expect that this information comes from a country that feels itself under siege and therefore is very conscious of any groups that it feels might be threatening it.

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