Intellectuals urge Palestinians against violence after death of Sheikh Yassin

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The Independent Online

Sixty leading Palestinian intellectuals and officials yesterday signed a prominent advertisement implicitly urging Palestinians not to escalate the cycle of violence by maintaining the strategy of suicide bombings.

Sixty leading Palestinian intellectuals and officials yesterday signed a prominent advertisement implicitly urging Palestinians not to escalate the cycle of violence by maintaining the strategy of suicide bombings.

The half-page advertisement in the Palestinian Liberation Organisation's Al-Ayyam newspaper urged Palestinians not to give Ariel Sharon, the Israeli Prime Minister, "a chance to crown his aggression on our people" by reacting with renewed violence after the assassination of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the Hamas leader.

The advertisement appeared to be a concerted attempt to stem the militant reaction triggered by the assassination - which it vigorously condemned - and was in sharp contrast to the bloodcurdling threats of vengeance uttered by Abdel Aziz Rantissi, the newly designated Hamas leader in Gaza. Instead it called for a "peaceful Intifada".

The publication following a massive demonstration of support for Hamas at the huge funeral procession for Sheikh Yassin. And although the advertisement was clearly drafted in advance, it also came close after the foiling of a suicide bombing mission at Hawara checkpoint, on Wednesday, involving a 16-year-old recruited by armed militants. Iyad Sarraj, a prominent child psychologist in Gaza, said yesterday that "every Palestinian I spoke to today was appalled and disgusted and ashamed and angry," at the exploitation of the 16 year-old.

The advertisement, which includes well known moderates including Hanan Ashrawi, the Palestinian Legislative Council member, and Sari Nusseibi, the Al Quds University principal, as well as a range of officials in the Fatah organisation, appeared to attempt a compromise between those who would abrogate the use of armed violence altogether and those who want restricted military operations which do not include attacks on civilians in Israel. All the signatories are thought to be against suicide bombings whether perpetrated by Hamas, Islamic Jihad or the Fatah linked al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade.

Although ferociously condemnatory of Israeli policy and of Mr Sharon in particular for the "criminal and appalling" act against Sheikh Yassin the advertisement declared: "We, in spite of that, call on all our people in the homeland, guided by national interests to take the initiative from the hands of the criminal occupation gangs, subdue the anger, and rise up again in a peaceful intifada which is clear in its goals, correct in its appeal, and takes the initiative."

The signatories also include Mahmoud Alul, the governor of Nablus, and Yasser Abed Rabbo, who jointly produced with the prominent Israeli leftist politician Yossi Beilin the Geneva Accord which sought to define a "final status" solution based on a division close to that of the pre-1967 borders.

Although the signatories to the advertisement will have an uphill struggle persuading many Palestinians enraged by the assassination of Sheikh Yassin , it is nevertheless a significant exposure of the view of many leading Palestinians that a new approach to the struggle for Palestinian rights is needed, if the floundering process is ever to be revived. The initiative follows growing signs that Mr Sharon is contemplating only a very limited withdrawal from a handful of West Bank settlements in addition to his planned disengagement from Gaza.

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