International News

Palestinians on Defensive After Attacks in U.S.

Posted: Friday, September 14, 2001 at 01:28 PM CT

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Palestinian President Yasser Arafat has gone to great lengths to show his distaste for the terror strikes in the United States, even being filmed and photographed donating blood for the victims.

Yet the most powerful and memorable images from Palestinian areas this week showed some people celebrating the attacks.

Since those pictures were broadcast, the Palestinians have been on the defensive even though the finger of blame is being pointed elsewhere, at Saudi-born militant Osama bin Laden.

Palestinian officials dismissed the celebrations as an aberration by a thoughtless few which did not reflect Palestinians' opinion. But the damage had already been done.

Israeli commentators say global attitudes against Palestinian suicide bombings are likely to harden after the attacks on the United States, and that Israel is expected to have a freer hand to hit back.

``For Israel the immediate short-term consequence will certainly be greater understanding of what we have been facing and perhaps toleration of a serious effort to enter Palestinian Authority territory to confiscate Palestinian weapons,'' Israeli commentator Jonathan Rosenblum wrote in the Jerusalem Post.

Ehud Sprinzak, an Israeli expert on terrorism, wrote in the Maariv newspaper: ``The terrible disaster in the United States is a dark and gloomy day for Arafat.

``From the perspective of Jews, it is the most important public relations act ever committed in our favor,'' he said.

The Palestinians accuse Israel of taking advantage of the situation by launching military offensives while the eyes of the world are turned away from the violence that has raged since a Palestinian uprising began against occupation nearly a year ago.

Israeli troops shot and killed 13 Palestinians in less than 48 hours during their latest incursion in the Jenin area of the northern West Bank. Israel said suicide bombers set off on their missions from Jenin, a city it described as a ``terrorist nest.''

``The (Israeli) government is exploiting these circumstances to carry out its plan of destroying the peace process and the Palestinian Authority,'' Palestinian cabinet minister Saeb Erekat said.


The celebrations in Arab East Jerusalem and the West Bank city of Nablus have, in the eyes of the outside world, overshadowed the Palestinians' condemnation of the attacks on the United States.

The revelers, angry with Israel's use of U.S. weapons against Palestinians, handed out sweets. Cars honked their horns and gunmen fired into the air from assault rifles in celebration.

But many other Palestinians have criticized the attacks and expressed sympathy with Americans.

``The general picture was completely different,'' said Ghassan al-Khatib, a former Palestinian peace negotiator.

Palestinian children stood in silence in schools to remember the victims. Some Palestinians have given blood, hundreds took part in a rally in the West Bank city of Ramallah to show solidarity and a candlelit march was planned in East Jerusalem.

Palestinian militant groups have distanced themselves from the attack and Arafat has urged Arab states to declare their readiness to join an international coalition to fight terror.

Palestinian officials have also renewed efforts with the Israelis to arrange truce talks between Arafat and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres. Arafat gave a rare telephone interview to am American newspaper to put his views across.

But the Palestinian Authority suffered another blow to its image when the Foreign Press Association in Israel accused it of harassing journalists and failing to stop gunmen who tried to prevent footage of the Nablus protest being broadcast.

Palestinian officials denied the charge of harassment, and said a false image of the Palestinian reaction to the attacks had been presented. But again, the damage had been done.

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