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Israel 'dragging Mid-East into war'

1 April 2002

The delegates of more than 50 Islamic countries meeting in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, have accused Israel of dragging the Middle East towards all-out war.

The Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC) urged the United Nations to impose "deterrent sanctions" on Israel and to protect the Palestinians.

The BBC's correspondent at the summit, Jonathan Head, says Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad had viewed the summit - the first Muslim meeting to discuss terrorism - as an opportunity for the Muslim world to regain some of the moral ground following the 11 September attacks, by issuing a condemnation of terrorism in all its forms.

But the meeting has been overshadowed by Israeli actions against Palestinians in the West Bank, following two suicide bombings.

"Israel's terrorist actions and aggressive practices, posing a threat to international peace and security, and dragging the region towards an all-out war necessitate immediate action by the United Nations Security Council," the OIC's statement read.

Defining terrorism

Dr Mahathir earlier stressed that the Israeli Government and Palestinians alike should be condemned as terrorists.

He said their targeting of civilians defined their action as terrorism.

"I would like to suggest here that armed attacks or other forms of attacks against civilians must be regarded as acts of terror and the perpetrators regarded as terrorists."

But he argued that Israeli "state terrorism" was a bigger danger than terrorist acts by groups or individuals, and called on the world to "forcibly stop them".

Dealing with the causes

Dr Mahathir said that the root causes of individual terrorist acts could not be ignored.

"We cannot just dismiss them as senseless perverts who enjoy terrorising people," he said.

Dr Mahathir said he objected to linking Muslims with terrorism, saying it was not perpetrated by only one race or religion.

But he added that Muslims had grievances which were "real and truly unbearable", and the bitterness over perceived injustices and their impotence to do anything about them, led them to "commit terrible acts of terror".

"The world must deal with these misguided people not just by hunting them down but also by removing the causes of their anger and frustration," the Malaysian leader said.

But our correspondent says the unrest in the Middle East is making it hard for Dr Mahathir to get the backing of other Muslim states for his sweeping condemnation of terrorist acts.

Instead of bringing the Muslim world closer to the West, he says, it could simply underscore the huge gulf that still exists between the US perception of the terrorist threat and that of the Islamic world.

Jonathan Head
Published by BBC News Online (Asia-Pacific) MMII BBC News Online

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