Sharon faces protests as he flies in for London talks

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The Independent Online

Massive security is expected as the Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, arrives in London todayahead of talks with Tony Blair. Protests against his visit are expected from British Muslim groups as well as British Jews who oppose his hardline policies in the conflict with the Palestinians.

Visits by Israeli officials usually involve intense security, and none is more controversial than Mr Sharon, who has presided over the reoccupation of Palestinian towns and cities and the Jenin atrocities as Prime Minister. He was held personally responsible by an Israeli inquiry for the 1982 massacre of Palestinians by Lebanese Christian militias at Sabra and Chatila refugee camps in Beirut.

Demonstrations are being planned outside Downing Street during Mr Sharon's meeting with Mr Blair by groups such as the Muslim Association of Britain, and Jews for Justice for Palestinians.

The two leaders will be discussing the Middle East peace process at a time when relations between Britain and Israel are strained. Mr Sharon was angry when Mr Blair used the influence he won with George Bush by backing the Iraq war to push the US President to do more to resolve the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

Since then, Mr Sharon has had his arm twisted to sign up to the "roadmap" peace plan - a plan that he never wanted, and for which he has repeatedly shown his distaste.

The Israeli Prime Minister fired his own first shots even before he boarded the plane to Britain, accusing European leaders of damaging the peace process by maintaining contacts with Yasser Arafat.

"He [Mr Arafat] got all those telephone calls from leaders, mostly from Europe, and he receives messages from ministers of foreign affairs and others," Mr Sharon said in an interview with The Daily Telegraph.

"Every act of this nature only postpones the progress in the process," he said. "Most European countries are doing that. By that they are undermining [the Palestinian Prime Minister] Abu Mazen."

Relations have also been strained over the shooting of British citizens in the occupied territories. The UN agency that provides humanitarian aid to Palestinian refugees has accused Israel of a cover-up after Iain Hook, a British UN worker, was shot dead by an Israeli sniper in the West Bank city of Jenin. Tom Hurndall, a British peace activist, is in a coma after he was shot by an Israeli sniper as he tried to help trapped Palestinian children out of the line of fire in the city of Rafah, in southern Gaza.

And James Miller, an award-winning British cameraman, was shot dead at close range by Israeli soldiers in Rafah despite being clearly marked as a member of the press.

When Mr Hurndall's parents attempted to visit the spot where their son was shot - they were travelling in a British consular vehicle and were accompanied by British diplomats - an Israeli soldier at an army checkpoint fired over their car.

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