Media fear Arafat and Peres will fall together

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The Independent Online

The reaction in the Arab media mirrored the scene of the Tel Aviv explosion: confusion and shattered ideas among those who had thought they knew where they stood.

Editorials indicated that the Islamic movement Hamas would prefer to engage in a "dance of death" with a hardline Likud government, rather than risk diminishing its influence by making a peace-deal with the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, and the Israeli Prime Minister, Shimon Peres.

The consensus among the leader-writers is that the fates of Mr Arafat and Mr Peres are linked. If Mr Peres is defeated in the coming Israeli election in May, so several papers argued, Mr Arafat will go down with him.

Many also blamed Israel for escalating the violence and some, especially the London-based Arabic papers, accused Israel of creating the Islamic resistance in the first place.

Arab Nationalists and left-wing writers who in the past rejoiced when disasters had befallen the Jewish state, found it hard to applaud Hamas. They are themselves on the receiving end of the Islamists' terror.

"Hamas's bombs are the most serious threat to peace since the search for peace began over two decades ago," wrote a columnist in the semi-official Cairo daily Al- Ahram, a paper which has never in the past been sympathetic to Israel.

Meanwhile, the government-controlled Egyptian television news bulletins condemned the bombing, saying "such actions cannot be tolerated. The second item was the arrest of 41 Muslim leaders and "smashing their cells".

However, leaders of the outlawed Muslim Brothers warned Mr Arafat against "the temptation to follow the wishes of the Jews and fight the Islamic groups, especially Hamas," according to the Saudi newspaper Asharq al-Awsat, which quoted Mustafa Mashhoor, the leader of the Brothers. He said: "Hamas is not a terrorist organisation, but a nationalist movement whose offer of a truce was rejected by Israel because Israel wants instability."

Mr Arafat, whose dilemma generated many sympathetic editorials, "as he is kicked by the two sides [Hamas and Israel]", is also warned against being seen as "Israel's gendarme", by Jihad el-Khazen, the respected editor of the pro-Saudi Al- Hayat. "Arafat, who lost a great deal through no fault of his own, could cut further losses by not giving in to Israel's demands."

Mr el-Khazen reminded Israel, "which has a powerful army and a daring intelligence service", not to burden the Palestinian leadership with "its own failure in dealing with Hamas, instead of admitting that it reaps what its war against Hamas has sown".]

An editorial in an Egyptian radio service expressed a concern that Israel's promise to hunt down Hamas supporters "everywhere", could send the "cycle of violence, retaliation and counter-retaliation spinning across borders in the region."

An editorial in the London-based pro-Arafat Al-quds, was rather pessimistic, as it drew parallels with the attempt on the life of the Israeli ambassador, Moshe Argov, outside the Dorchester Hotel, in London, in 1982, which triggered the Israeli invasion of Lebanon and the subsequent exile of the PLO in Tunisia.

"Hopefully", the editor wrote, "Mr Peres still remembers the disaster that followed [the former Israeli prime minister] Menachem Begin's disastrous folly . . . The invasion did not end attacks from Lebanon against Israel, but instead ignited the intifada, which bled Israel for four years."