Israel bomb attacks: Twenty feared dead as Hamas claims responsibility for latest outrage to hit Middle East negotiations

Exiles shed no tears over slaughter
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The Independent Online
ROBERT FISK

Beirut

Just over a week ago, in a Beirut hospital, a 74-year-old Palestinian woman, driven from her home in Acre in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, lay dying. Her daughter came to see her.

"Have you heard the news?" she asked her mother who had only three days to live. "There have been two suicide bombings in Israel. There are more than 20 dead." The woman stared at her daughter. "Prop me up in bed," she said. "I want to hear more." Thus did a dying woman recover a spark of life from the news of savage death.

Among the Palestinian diaspora there was precious little sympathy for the passengers on the Jerusalem buses and the shoppers in Tel Aviv.

Every Middle East atrocity produces outrage and amnesia, and the ferocious suicide-bombings in Israel have produced the usual mixture of fury and loss of historical memory, both short and long-term, as the "peace process" crumbles away.

If Israelis have only just woken up to the probability of collapse, the same cannot be said of millions of Arabs who - despite the support for the Oslo accord of their pro-Western governments - long ago abandoned hope of a just peace. How could the dying woman demonstrate such satisfaction at the terrible news from Jerusalem?

For survivors of the 1948 exodus and their descendants, the suffering of the Palestinian diaspora at the hands of the Israelis long ago neutered compassion for Israel. On the walls of the Sabra and Chatila camps, at Mar Elias in Beirut and at Ein el-Helwe in Sidon, the most familiar face is that of Yahya Ayyash, the Hamas bomb- maker, the "Engineer" assassinated by Israeli intelligence agents on 5 January. As usual, the Islamists have turned the Israeli policy of an eye for an eye on its head, claiming at least 60 lives for the life of a single man.

Hamas cuts little ice in Lebanon. Its members here have nothing to offer the 400,000 Palestinian refugees who have been cut out of Yasser Arafat's deal. But in the camps yesterday there was no shortage of young men to give history lessons. "Hamas and the Israelis had a ceasefire that lasted seven months and then Israel broke the ceasefire by murdering Ayyash," one said.

"So Hamas takes its revenge and the Israelis expect us to burst into tears for them."

Less angry voices asked why the world had forgotten that Israel had helped to create Hamas as an Islamic "balance" to Mr Arafat's influence, when the PLO were supposed to be the arch-"terrorists" of the Middle East.

It is a fact that several Hamas men deported to southern Lebanon by Yitzhak Rabin in 1992 personally met Shimon Peres. And it is also true that Israel was last week threatening to repeat its old "balancing" act, as Ehud Barak, the Foreign Minister, announced that Israel might reopen talks with Hamas, if Arafat did not "deal" with the group. "We told you the 'peace process' would not work from the day the PLO signed the accord with Israel," a Palestinian Marxist remarked. "But it needed the Israelis to start saying so before you believed it. Now, in the middle of this 'peace', Hamas have declared war and pushed the Israelis into declaring 'all-out war'. That's what Begin declared on Arafat in 1982. That's what Rabin declared on the Hizbollah in 1993. They both failed. And now Peres will fail."

The non- Islamic Palestinian militants here are drawing even grimmer conclusions. Hamas, they suspect, has reunited, following disputes between its politburo and its armed members, and has decided to discredit Mr Arafat and start a civil war in the West Bank between Palestinians and the Jewish settlers.

"It was not by chance that they bombed the bus route used by the settlers," a member of the Democratic Front said.

"They are going for the right-wing Israelis, the settlers, provoking an attack from them, maybe another Hebron [mosque massacre]."

Palestinian leaders in Beirut and Damascus realise Hamas is now going all-out to destroy the Oslo accord. Despite their contempt for the peace agreement, they do not like what they see. "We do not want an Islamic Palestine any more than Arafat," an angry veteran of the 1982 war said last night.

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