Over the past year and a half, the policies of Ariel Sharon’s coalition government have come under increasing fire from moderates and the world community.Collective punishment and assassination tactics employed by the Israeli government have been met on the Palestinian side with the second Intefadeh and an escalationin suicide bombings and attacks. The sudden spike in violence has raised thespecter of all-out war in the already volatile region.
Most recently, the U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan urged Israelis to end their ‘illegal occupation’ of Palestinian territory and to stop usingexcessive force. He called for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinianleader Yasser Arafat to back his efforts to renew the peace process and avoiddisaster. Even President Bush, usually a staunch supporter of Israel’s right to defend itself, appeared to be directing his comments towards Mr. Sharon’s government.
‘Frankly, it’s not helpful, what the Israelis have recently donein order to create conditions for peace,’ Mr. Bush said. ‘I understandsomeone trying to defend themselves and to fight terror. But the recent actions aren’t helpful.’
The violence appears to be hardening both the political right and left. WithSharon’s approval rating lower than 50 percent, he faces pressure fromthe coalition government to either crack down harder or make concessions towardsa greater peace.
Evidently swayed by the right, he recently stated, ‘We will beat themuntil they beg for peace.’
Keeping his promise, Israeli incursions into Palestinian refugee camps intensifiedlast week, with up to 20,000 troops and dozens of tanks and armored personnelcarriers being used in one operation alone. The incursions were met by fierceresistance from Palestinian gunmen, with over 120 gunmen and civilians killedin the last week alone.
Over 30 Israelis have died as well. While the incursions have elicited applausefrom the right and outrage from the peace-seeking left, the new violence hascaught criticism for the Israeli use of machine gun fire and other means ofwarfare in narrow streets and in neighborhoods teeming with civilians.
In addition, human rights abuses, such as preventing ambulances from enteringthe refugee camps to ferry the wounded, have been reported frequently. One U.N. medic was killed when his ambulance was shot at by Israeli forces last week.At the same time, the operation has been successful, in that the Israeli militaryreported the seizure of several Qassam 2 rockets and explosives during the operation.The actions are defended as necessary to prevent future suicide bombings.
U.S. envoy Anthony Zinni arrived in the region Thursday in attempts to brokera cease-fire and talks between the Israelis and Palestinians.
Two of his previous missions failed under spiraling violence. At least 1,400 people, the vast majority of them Palestinians, have died since the uprisingbegan in September 2000.