BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific
BBCi NEWS   SPORT   WEATHER   WORLD SERVICE   A-Z INDEX     

BBC News World Edition
 You are in: Talking Point: Forum  
News Front Page
Africa
Americas
Asia-Pacific
Europe
Middle East
South Asia
UK
Business
Entertainment
Science/Nature
Technology
Health
-------------
Talking Point
Forum
-------------
Country Profiles
In Depth
-------------
Programmes
-------------
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
SERVICES
-------------
EDITIONS
Friday, 15 March, 2002, 16:54 GMT
Middle East: Ask the BBC's correspondent in Gaza
To watch the forum, select the link below:

  56k  


The Israeli army has begun a phased withdrawal from the West Bank town of Ramallah, which it occupied in massive force on Tuesday.

The move came as US peace envoy, Anthony Zinni, prepared to meet Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon at the start of a visit to the region aimed at securing an end to more than 17 months of violent clashes between Israel and the Palestinians.

Reports suggest that many of the 20,000 troops and 150 tanks involved in the operation are expected to remain in the area, forming a cordon around the city.

But the US State Department called for a complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from Palestinian-controlled areas, including Ramallah - home to the headquarters of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

What hopes are there of peace returning to the Middle East? What is the current situation on the ground?

Kylie Morris, the BBC's correspondent in Gaza, answered your questions about the current situation in the Middle East.


Transcription


Newshost:

Rhys Chen, Singapore: I was surprised by the low level response from the Palestinians after the 13th (Wednesday). Did the Israeli Defence Force succeed by "flooding" the ground to the extent that the Palestinians had difficulty responding?


Kylie Morris:

I think it depends where you are talking about. Certainly strategically, it differs from place to place. For example, in Rafah which is down in the far south, just on the border with Egypt, there was a big movement by tanks earlier in the week and the Palestinian gunmen who were down there realised that they were well and truly outnumbered and had nowhere to flee to. So they moved fairly quickly into safe territory inside the refugee camp in Rafah and the tanks moved about - there was no resistance really at all and then the tanks eventually moved back onto the Israeli side. Certainly in Jabalya camp though, which is to the north of Gaza city, we saw 20 people killed here a few nights ago. Now there was very heavy resistance there from militants and from gunmen when about 50 tanks moved into that refugee camp. So I think it depends really where you're talking about as to what kind of resistance has been dealt to the Israelis.

I think also though the Merkava tank that Rhys refers to - certainly in the mosques here in Gaza, that's been spoken about today. That's really a matter of pride, if you like, for Palestinians that they have now managed to carry out two attacks against Israeli tanks, both in the Netzarim area, just to the south of Gaza City - three Israelis soldiers were killed in that attack yesterday.

So even though you're seeing, if you like a massive military response from the Palestinians, you are seeing a measured response and I think as much as Palestinians can manage groups like Al-Aqsa, the military group associated with the Fatah movement. Also the Abu Ali Mustafa group associated with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. And Hamas and Islamic Jihad are all talking about continuing their operations and continuing to resist any Israeli aggression.


Newshost:

Matthew McFarland: Newport USA: Why do the Palestinian's fight the Israelis when they know that they can't win? If they stop the attacks wouldn't the Israeli's do the same?


Kylie Morris:

Well I think the Palestinian view is that at the moment they don't have much else other than the chance to fight. There are no meaningful negotiations underway. There is no just peace in the offing, so most people here don't really see that they have any alternative but the alternative of military resistance. Certainly I don't think that anyone expects a major victory against the Israelis - certainly not at this stage. But the incremental creep of the effectiveness of smaller operations against soldiers, against settlers and certainly the big terrorists acts like the suicide bombings inside Israel, I think are certainly seen here as a meaningful way, if you like, to continue this conflict.


Newshost:

Is there no appreciation among people who think like that of the way in which the wave of suicide bombings, we've seen for instance, feeds the cycle of violence and actually guarantees there's going to be even more?


Kylie Morris:

I think the big difference in the two sides is where they begin the cycle of violence. This terminology - the cycle of violence - is an interesting one in the sense that everyone then claims that their act is a retaliatory act. So for example the suicide bombing that we saw in the Jerusalem café last week, was described as a response to the operations inside the refugee camps on the West Bank by the Israeli defence forces a few days prior to that. So it's really difficult to talk in terms of this cycle of violence and who is retaliating against what.

I think the Palestinian view is that the Israelis are engaged in an on-going military operation. Certainly Ariel Sharon, the Israeli Prime Minister, has talked about aiming to really strike at the heart of the Palestinian authority infrastructure and as long as those attacks are continuing, I think that most Palestinians would say that their responses are justified.


Newshost:

Gerben Hoekstra, Groningen, Netherlands: It looks to me as if Israel is effectively destroying the Palestinian state - bombing government buildings, police stations, water, power lines, etc. One would think the Israelis with their history would know better than to try something which looks as though they're trying to force people to choose to leave the area completely.


Kylie Morris:

I think an important thing to remember about the Palestinian state is that it really exists - for the moment at least - in people's imagination and dreams here - it doesn't actually exist on paper. As a result of that it is a very difficult thing to budge or to shake in terms of the way that Palestinians think about the place that they have - think about their land. Certainly the infrastructure has been damaged. In Ramallah, there are all sorts of water supply and electricity problems. The security infrastructure is virtually gone. I don't think there is police station or a security post left standing in Gaza pretty much these days. Certainly here we have real electricity problems and there are real communications problems - the mobile phone network is a disaster. So those kinds of things are happening - you are seeing a erosion of any of the infrastructure standards that existed prior to the intifada. But by the same token, I don't think that that destroys the Palestinian state because most people here would regard that as continuing on beyond anything that could be reached by F-16s or incursions.


Newshost:

Alan Bruce, Edinburgh: Is Israel still building settlements in the occupied territories?


Kylie Morris:

There is settlement growth. Probably the best way I can describe that in Gaza is that there is a large settlement block in the south of Gaza called Gush Katif . There are roads obviously leading to that settlement which come in from outside of Gaza - so effectively if you're a settler, you can travel in without travelling through any Palestinian land, if you like - or you travel along areas that are Israeli controlled areas. But now because there has been a lot of violence, particularly around one intersection where a Palestinian road intersects with an Israeli road, there are now moves afoot to build a bridge there - an overpass if you like. Now that overpass will lead into the settlement. Palestinians here would say that that overpass is part of settlement expansion. Certainly there has been a lot of land claimed around the settlements recently. All in order to provide security, the Israeli defence forces would say but people here see that as creep or an encroachment by the settlements onto what was previously Palestinian land.


Newshost:

Asad Rana, London, Middlesex: Having had Ramallah under siege, is there a threat from the Lebanese or Jordanian youths who see their Palestinian brethren under attack?


Kylie Morris:

I don't think anyone here is waiting for the Lebanese or the Jordanian youths to heat up their protest. There have been some movements on university campuses and certainly some small protests in Jordan. But I think really most people - Jordanian and Lebanese - would express sympathy towards the Palestinian plight - certainly they watch every night what's happening on their local satellite networks - networks like Al-Jazeera - or on Lebanese or Jordanian television. You don't normally see that translated into any kind of political activity by those populations or by the young people there. You do see some actions there but they're mainly by the Palestinian populations inside Lebanon and Jordan.


Newshost:

Chris Schutt, Madison, USA: Can you please explain what is in the stipulations laid out by United Nations Resolution 242?


Kylie Morris:

Resolution 242 is basically requiring Israel to move back out of the territory that was won in the 1967 war. So that means all of the West Bank, the Jordan Valley, Gaza and the Golan Heights.


Newshost:

Mark, US: Given that the offer for peace has been met with a continual armed uprising and endless terrorist attacks commanded by the elected Palestinian authorities, why should the Israelis believe that they will ever be able to live in peace in their own country?


Kylie Morris:

I think the Palestinian view on that question would be that a just solution has never been tried and until there is a just solution then there can be no security for Israel. Certainly the land for peace premise basically has to do with that or explains that view that the Israelis will have peace when they give up their occupied lands.


Newshost:

Let's turn our attention to what's actually going on today. I know it's a very busy day for you with Anthony Zinni in the region and meeting Yasser Arafat. We've heard talk of a Palestinian peace proposal - at least for a ceasefire. Do you know what the basis of that would be?


Kylie Morris:

My understanding, from the Palestinians, is that this is going back to the basic principles of the Tenet and Mitchell plan. Certainly the Tenet plan which was introduced by the CIA chief all those months ago now, is aimed at securing a ceasefire with an immediate end to violence on both sides. The Palestinian requirements under that were that they arrest militants. And certainly on the other side, the Israelis were due to stop any attacks or bombardments of Palestinian positions.

My understanding is that the Palestinians have actually drawn a red line and have said that they will not arrest militants retroactively and that they will assume that there must be a complete cease to any Israeli incursions into area A before they're prepared to even talk about a ceasefire.


Newshost:

Ilkka Rauhala, Auckland, New Zealand: I'm often puzzled that the BBC puts Israel's every move under magnifying class without doing the same thing with the Palestinians. Do you find it intimidating to report objectively as you live in Gaza?


Kylie Morris:

I would take issue with the first part of that question. If there's a Palestinian suicide bombing in Israel, I don't think we set it off to one side, I think we explore all the detail we can we certainly show the full horror of Al-Aqsa-like suicide bombings.

In terms of my ability to report objectively here - I do my best. There are constraints, certainly - I am not sure that many journalists operating, for example, in the Middle East or in many places, would feel completely free of intimidation necessarily when they're criticising the powers within or the governments within those countries. But certainly I endeavour to tell the truth.


Newshost:

Undoubtedly - and on the ground, Kylie, as you go about your business, particularly in the last few days. What's it felt like? Has it felt increasingly dangerous? One recalls that a photographer was only killed within the last day or so by, I think, the Israelis.


Kylie Morris:

Well, certainly, I think the perils for everyone - journalists included - have increased over the last couple of weeks. The death toll has sailed out of sight in the past ten days or so. I think there is a real sense of panic and chaos particularly when you have big heavy artillery incursions into refugee camps where lots of people are armed - there is always going to be an intensity to the violence there. There are all sorts of rumours as well about who should be safe and who should not be safe in all of this. We've seen ambulance drivers who've been killed and ambulances which have fired upon. Certainly the Israelis have suspicions that the ambulances might be involved somehow in carrying people who are not injured people but are people who are trying to harm Israeli soldiers or carry out attacks.

I think by the same token there are apparently rumours around Ramallah that the Israelis had commandeered a television car and were driving around in one of the armoured cars belonging to one of the television networks and for that reason there were other television journalists who came under fire in Ramallah. So unsafe days indeed for everyone I think.


Key stories

Profiles

FACTFILE

TALKING POINT

AUDIO VIDEO
Internet links:


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Forum stories are at the foot of the page.


E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Forum stories

© BBC ^^ Back to top

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East |
South Asia | UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature |
Technology | Health | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |
Programmes