Peres presses Arafat to renounce 'world terrorism'

Israel Mourns
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The Independent US

Israel lost no time yesterday, even as it mourned the colossal tragedy suffered by its closest ally, in seizing the opportunity to apply more pressure on the Palestinians.

Although there is no sign of a direct link between the mass murders in the United States and Palestinian guerrilla groups, Israel's Foreign Minister, Shimon Peres, declared that Yasser Arafat now faced a choice between renouncing the "world of terrorism" or facing the wrath of the entire world.

"This is a genuine opportunity for him to get out of the world of terrorism, and this is, in fact, the real test," Mr Peres told Israel Radio. "He cannot hang on to both things at once; no one can, simultaneously busying himself with terror and at the same time being accepted by the world. What happened in America sharpened this choice into one that can no longer be a matter of compromise."

The attack in the US has been a crushing blow for the Palestinians, which Israel is sure to press home. The mainstream Palestinian paramilitary leaders argue that they are engaged in a guerrilla war in the occupied territories to end 34 years of illegal Israeli occupation. They routinely – and ineffectually – denounce the deadly attacks on civilians by Islamic suicide bombers inside Israel. But these distinctions are likely to be swept aside by the assault on the US – and Israel has moved swiftly to advance this process, portraying the catastrophe as a definitive global event, pitting the entire free world, including Israel, against a new and terrible form of terrorism. And they are now, more than ever, moving to ensure that the words "Palestinian" and "terrorism" are one and the same.

"I hope the Palestinians draw the conclusions," said Mr Peres. "Yesterday the countdown for the end of terrorism began. If the terrorism stops, we will enter into negotiations."

As he spoke, Israel was in the grips of a massive security alert against the possibility that those who attacked the US would move against the Jewish state. Its land borders with Egypt and Jordan were closed. For most of the day, Tel Aviv airport was closed to all foreign flights, allowing only the Israeli airline El Al to operate.

And the nation – whose 6.4 million population includes many with close family ties in the US – was in official mourning. Schools were closed, flags were lowered to half mast. Everywhere, Israelis saw their own experience of conflict reflected in events in America. "Our Own Hell Magnified 1,000 times," said a headline in Ma'ariv newspaper. "People were always asking me how can you live like that?" said Moshe Bobrovsky, a translator originally from New York, referring to attacks on Israelis by Palestinians. "Now I can ask them the same question."

Scores of Israelis donated blood to be sent to victims of the attack. Flowers were laid outside the US embassy in Tel Aviv, and thousands of people contacted the Israeli embassy in the US for news of their relatives.

Meanwhile, in Jerusalem, there was a return to the scene of one of Israel's latest tragedies. Some crying, others sitting in stony silence, survivors of last month's suicide bombing of a pizza restaurant revisited the scene.

Making good on a promise to get back in business as soon as possible, the Sbarro restaurant held a reopening ceremony, five weeks after a bomber killed himself and 15 others. Yesterday the only trace of the tragedy was a memorial lamp near the doorway and a plaque which read: "In memory of the darkness which fell upon us on Thursday August 9, 2001."

Sitting in a corner booth, her eyes red from weeping, a bomb survivor, Simona Ehrenzweig, said: "I'm really in a mess, I'm fed up living in a country where there are bombs going off all the time. Maybe now in the United States they'll understand what we go through everyday."