Israel: Abduction heightens tensions

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The Independent Online

The international community is today trying to lure the Israelis and Palestinians back from the abyss of a long and bloody conflict in which tensions heightened again yesterday with the capture of an Israeli reserve colonel by Hizbollah guerrillas.

The international community is today trying to lure the Israelis and Palestinians back from the abyss of a long and bloody conflict in which tensions heightened again yesterday with the capture of an Israeli reserve colonel by Hizbollah guerrillas.

As both sides prepared for a summit at the resort of Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt, to search for an end to more than two weeks of bloodshed, Israel was rocked by the humiliating news of the abduction of another of its soldiers - the fourth in a fortnight.

Today's talks are, at best, expected to produce an agreement by both sides to take measures to try to stop the violence, which claimed its 100th victim yesterday after the death of a Palestinian injured in last week's violence.

But public outrage has been inflamed by a series of brutal events - the lynching of two Israeli soldiers by a Palestinian mob and the killing of Arab children by Israeli soldiers - creating an atmosphere in which it will be hard to achieve any progress.

The summit, which is being hosted by the Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak, will involve the top diplomatic heavyweights - Bill Clinton, Kofi Annan, the UN's Secretary General, Javier Solana, representing the European Union, and King Abdullah of Jordan - who have convened in an effort to avert a crisis that has already hit oil and stock prices, and brings with it a spectre of renewed guerrilla attacks against the United States and Israel.

Both the Palestinian President, Yasser Arafat, and Israel's Prime Minister, Ehud Barak, are restricted by domestic opinion. Many Palestinians have accused Mr Arafat of squandering the sacrifices of the "martyrs" of their new intifada (uprising) by agreeing to attend.

A petition was circulating in the occupied territories yesterday with the signatures of about 8,000 Palestinians, including intellectuals and lawmakers, calling for the continuation of the intifada and urging Mr Arafat not to go to Sharm el-Sheikh. They see the summit as an attempt to undermine an Arab summit scheduled for 21-22 October, called to bolster the Palestinians' refusal to accept Israel's terms for peace, notably on the thorny issue of Jerusalem.

In an interview with The Independent, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the spiritual leader of the militant Hamas group, repeated his call for Mr Arafat to boycott the talks, pledging the destruction of Israel.

Mr Barak goes to the summit in an embattled and angry mood which became even worse yesterday after the revelation that 54-year-old Elhanan Tannenbaum, an Israeli reserve colonel whom Hizbollah says is a Mossad agent, had been abducted while on a trip to Europe.

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