Sharon appeals to America not to 'appease' Arabs

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Ariel Sharon, Israel's Prime Minister, last night ratcheted up Middle East tensions to perilous new levels with an astonishing outburst in which he compared Arab states with Hitler's Third Reich, and appealed to the United States not to repeat the mistakes made by Europe by appeasing the Nazis.

The former army general and defence minister – whom Arabs accuse of being a war criminal for his involvement in the 1982 massacre of Palestinians at Sabra and Chatilla – savaged the policy pursued by Washington of seeking Arab support for a coalition against terror in the aftermath of the 11 September massacres.

"I call on the Western democracies and primarily the leader of the free world, the United States: 'Do not repeat the dreadful mistake of 1938 when enlightened European democracies decided to sacrifice Czechoslovakia for a convenient temporary solution. Do not try to appease the Arabs at our expense," Mr Sharon said. "This is unacceptable to us. Israel will not be Czechoslovakia. Israel will fight terrorism.

His emotive remarks – which are likely to infuriate not only the Arab world but also America and its European allies – underscore the Israeli Prime Minister's efforts to bracket the terrorists who attacked the US with the Palestinian guerrilla groups, fighting a territorial war against Israel.

They reflect the fear in Israel that in the wake of the attacks, Washington, its closest ally, is warming towards Islamic nations, some of which the Jewish state regards as terrorist – such as Iran, Syria and the state-less Palestinians.

He said Israel would fight "terrorism" without let up, and confirmed that Israel has abandoned one of the key parts of a truce agreement struck last week and would be resuming military strikes against the Palestinians.

His troops would take "whatever steps necessary" to protect Israelis – a phrase that has routinely been used to justify invading Palestinian land with tanks, bombing Palestinian security buildings with F-16s, tearing up Arab homes and orchards, and assassinating dozens of suspects.

His remarks came on the same day as a Palestinian gunman dressed as an Israeli soldier went on a shooting spree inside an Israeli bus station, killing three people, and unveiling another deadly tactic in the guerrilla war against Israel.

It also came as Israel was digesting the news that at least 60 of its citizens had died when a plane bound for Russia crashed into the Black Sea.

Police said 13 people were injured by the gunman's rampage, which happened in the centre of Afula, a working-class Israeli town a few miles north of the West Bank's northern border. Witnesses said the gunman disembarked from an Israeli bus and began shooting. He was shot dead by Israeli police.

It – and Mr Sharon's outburst – served as further confirmation that the latest ceasefire was destroyed by the lack of interest in negotiations on the part of Palestinian militants, the Israel army and the ascendant Israeli right-wing. There was more evidence of the general lack of appetite for a peaceable solution yesterday, with revelations that Israel has expanded Jewish settlements.

Israeli peace activists say 10 new settlement sites have been established in the West Bank since July, consolidating growth that began with Mr Sharon's election in February.

Expansion has continued despite the Mitchell commission's "blueprint" for peace, published in May, which called for a total freeze on all settlement building by Israel and warned that it will be difficult to end violence for long without it. "Settlement activities must not be allowed to undermine the restoration of calm and the resumption of negotiations," the report said.