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Thursday, 4 April, 2002, 09:44 GMT 10:44 UK
Six Forum: The Middle East
You put your questions about the Middle East to the BBC's Orla Guerin in Jerusalem, in a live forum for the BBC's Six O'clock news, presented by Manisha Tank.
Israeli forces are continuing their operations in the West Bank for a sixth day.
Soldiers and tanks have now entered five West Bank towns. Israel says the operations are in response to the wave of Palestinian suicide attacks of the past few days.
The Israeli prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, has raised the possibility of expelling the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, who remains trapped in his Ramallah headquarters.
US President George W Bush has again called for all those who "yearn for peace" in the Middle East to work to stop "the terrorist activities".
What is happening on the ground? Is there any hope for an break in the spiral of violence?
We saw wounded being brought out - some of them appeared to be men of fighting age - we saw dead, two of them were certainly civilians. Palestinians claim that they were killed inside their own homes - possibly during an exchange of fire. But much of what's going on is impossible for us to check because the Israelis are imposing such tight restrictions on us.
It is worth pointing out to people that in event, even at the best of times, many people in the West Bank and Gaza suffer extreme poverty. Many are dependent on food supplies that are brought to them regularly by the United Nations. Since the Intifada began, the situation has obviously become a lot worse - the living standards have plummeted and people have been living with little or nothing for a long time. On top of that you now have to add the restrictions on their movement - they can't go out, they can't buy fresh food, they don't know how long this siege is going to continue. Yesterday in Ramallah, there was a very brief break - the curfew was lifted for a few hours. Many people didn't even know about that and so didn't go outside. So the situation is quite extreme and there is a lot of concern now among international agencies that there will be real hunger soon.
I have to say that there's a very different feeling now - I think Israelis have united in a time of crisis, they feel that they are fighting for their lives. They can go absolutely nowhere - they can't go and have a cup of coffee, they can't go to a restaurant, they can't take their children out for a walk, they can't go to the shops - they simply do not feel safe anywhere. I think with that kind of extreme fear going on, most people are now backing what the army is doing.
There is a tendency among many on the Israeli side and certainly in the Israeli media to see the Palestinian leader as a kind of a demonic figure who is responsible for all the evil that befalls anybody in Israel. There was less of a questioning of how we got to this point and many Israeli commentators will always want to start the clock on a Palestinian attack and won't want to see what came before that. Palestinians will say that a lot of the violence that is taking place is set against a backdrop of occupation - that the occupation is here, that they are resisting that and that is why they carry out attacks and unless and until Israel ends the occupation, there won't be peace.
But certainly Yasser Arafat is a figure who is hugely mistrusted by average Israelis. They feel that he lied to them - they feel he deceived them and I think many feel that he is not ready to compromise on a state because they will say that he was offered a quite significant state by Ehud Barak, the previous Israeli leader and he turned that down at Camp David.
Michael S, USA: Why hasn't Arafat used the tremendous publicity he has got lately to quell the violence of the people he leads?
Now in terms of our precautions, we and all the other international media here do what we can. We are obviously now and particularly this week living in a war zone - Israel has declared a war and is certainly behaving as if it is at war. We do have some armoured vehicles that we use. A lot of the time we have to wear body armour, we have to wear helmets and it is a thing you do feel very conscious of because sometimes you have this protection and you are moving amongst civilians who have none.
But we try as much as we can to protect ourselves but obviously we have to go where the story is - we have to go to the front line, we have to try as much as possible to see everything that's going on, even if neither side wants us to do so and the situation is becoming increasingly dangerous. There is a feeling now - a very recent change on the part of the Israeli defence force that we in the media are now being targeted - every time we move shots are fired around us. I and my cameraman came under fire the other day - a huge burst of gunfire around us from Israeli troops.
On both sides you have the two peoples now looking back at Oslo and saying that Oslo was not what they believed it would be - the Palestinians particularly feel they were sold out. The Palestinians and the Palestinian leadership have accepted the existence of the state of Israel - have said that Israel has a right to exist. They relinquished a long time ago the notion that Israel could be destroyed. What they say they are now working for is the right to have their own state alongside Israel, not instead of Israel but living alongside.
Now what Ariel Sharon has been hearing from George Bush in the past few days has basically been encouraging. The American President has said, on more than one occasion, that he understands Israel's need to defend itself. He has basically said that Israel has no choice but to do what it is doing now. I think the only possibility that Israel will be prepared to stop this massive assault, or at least to slow it down or reduce it, would be if George Bush came out and said you have to do that and you have to do that now and he isn't doing that. American officials are telling us privately that the White House doesn't want to see this go on for ever. But certainly, I think, Israel feels it can continue for some time - at least a period of weeks.
Now we had an absolute disaster in Beirut - we had huge amount of disagreement over it. Eventually a position was sort of cobbled together whereby the proposal was endorsed by the Arab nations but not but in a very ringing, very united way. Israel never really wanted to have much to do with it although it didn't formally reject it. But certainly the feeling we've always had from Israeli senior officials here is that this is not a deal that Israel wants because it calls for a full Israeli withdrawal from the occupied land of the West Bank and Gaza and that's something that Ariel Sharon has said he will simply never do.
03 Apr 02 | Talking Point
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