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Collaborators slaughtered in besieged West Bank

2 April 2002

Ariel Sharon's declaration of "war'' yesterday sent the Israeli army storming into more Palestinian towns and brought execution to eight convicted Palestinian collaborators, who were coldly taken from their prison in Tulkarm and gunned down by hooded men only hours before the Israelis arrived.

Then, in mid-evening, a car bomb exploded on the border between east and west Jerusalem, close to an ultra-orthodox Jewish area, wounding three people, one of them seriously.

Earlier in the day, Israeli troops entered the Kalkilya refugee camp and positioned their armour on the hills above Bethlehem. In Beit Jala, Westerners demonstrating against the Israeli attacks were wounded by Israeli troops.

The only good news until last night was that for the first day in almost a week not a single Palestinian suicide bomber appeared to have made it through the lines to murder more Israelis.

Last night's bombing occurred after an Israeli policeman had stopped a car on the old Green Line dividing Jerusalem. Whether or not the driver was a would-be suicide bomber, his vehicle exploded and the badly wounded policeman was dragged away in flames.

Israeli forces fought gun battles with Palestinian fighters around Ramallah, a city which the Israeli army contrary to claims in Jerusalem clearly does not control.

A visit to Ramallah by The Independent yesterday provided proof that the conflict near Yasser Arafat's headquarters continues, with gunfire and rockets directed at Israel's invading armoured units. On Sunday night, the Israeli army tried to prevent foreign journalists entering the city by announcing that the terrain was a "Closed Military Area''. In fact, Ramallah remains legally if not de facto part of the Palestinian Authority's territory, in which the Israeli military restriction has no legal power.

The bloody scenes in Tulkarm were probably predictable but no less savage for that. The eight men accused of collaboration by the Palestinian Authority Mr Arafat has always been better at rounding up Israeli agents than Palestinian suicide bombers were apparently abandoned by their guards as the Israeli army prepared to enter the city. Presumably anxious to prevent the eight from starting work once more for their Israeli masters, the two hooded gunmen who dragged the prisoners from the building shot them all down together in cold blood.

The executions brought to 11 the number of collaborators shot dead in under 24 hours.

If all the evidence points to a steady Israeli reoccupation of the West Bank and perhaps Gaza as well Ehud Olmert, the Israeli major of Jerusalem, insisted yesterday that reoccupation "is not the purpose, not the aim, not the strategy of the Israeli government''. But what that strategy was remained unclear to many Israelis.

One Israeli writer, Rogel Alpher in Haaretz, yesterday scathingly described Mr Sharon's Sunday night address to Israelis as "troubled and neurotic''. After a series of suicide bombings that claimed dozens of Israeli lives, Mr Sharon had talked about "terror, terror and more terror". But Mr Alpher said that the Israeli Prime Minister came across like "a stuffed bear ... pathetically confused". The hour awaited a speech, Mr Alpher remarked, but what Israelis got from Mr Sharon was a "telegram from hell".

Across the Arab world, meanwhile, all the warnings of America's Arab allies were turning into reality. In Cairo, where President Hosni Mubarak has frequently expressed his fear of instability and public anger at Israel's assaults on the West Bank and Gaza, Egyptian police fought back with tear gas and batons as thousands of demonstrators tried to reach the Israeli embassy at Gezira island for the fourth day running. At Jordon University in Amman, crowds confronted security police, burning American and Israeli flags. There were demonstrations, too, in Syria, Lebanon and Libya.

Further Israeli attacks are now expected on Jenin the city from which so many Palestinian suicide bombers have emerged and even on Palestinian areas of Hebron. At least 20,000 Israeli reservists are now engaged in military operations, many of them inside the West Bank or Gaza. Even the diplomatic rules by which US officials were enjoined to refer to the occupied territories as "disputed'' now seem certain to change.

As "independence" is snuffed out in those areas once given to the Palestinian Authority, to be replaced by the old routine of fear and Israeli midnight arrests and torture, so Palestinian anger and frustration continues to build. If Yasser Arafat, who was himself a dab hand at midnight raids and torture, really could "control and arrest'' the suicide bombers, he now has no ability to follow the instructions of Israel and the United States. His prisons and intelligence offices have now largely been destroyed by the Israelis, and his policemen are, in many cities, on the run. How easy it would be, many Palestinians are now saying, for Israel to claim that its own army must reimpose "law and order'' by reoccupying all the Palestinian territory.

Robert Fisk, Ramallah
Published in the Independent © 2002 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd

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