Rabin rages against fanatical terrorism

FROM the moment that he joined some 30 journalists for breakfast at the Hyde Park Hotel in London yesterday there was only one topic on his mind.

Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli Prime Minister, relegated the peace process to a couple of passing comments and raged against what he described as 'this ugly way of fanatical Islamic terrorism'. He said: 'Terror is part of the way of life in the Middle East, and it is done in spite of efforts of Arab countries to reduce it. Ninety per cent of terrorist activities against Israel are by Hamas and Islamic Jihad.'

He described yesterday's bomb attack in Tel Aviv as part of a world-wide campaign that that used suicide bombers motivated by religious fanaticism: such fundamentalism had taken over Sudan, and was threatening Algeria and Egypt.

Referring to the political difficulties he now must face in pursuing the peace process, Mr Rabin said security was the overriding concern of almost every Israeli and the biggest 'justifiable' obstacle to a final peace deal.

'When these incidents happen, there's a lot of accusations against me, and there's no doubt it shifts the whole public against me and against the implementation of the peace accord.'

Although he did not suggest that any recent attack was linked to the PLO, Mr Rabin said Yasser Arafat was now responsible for preventing such incidents.

But he laid the blame for last week's bungled mission to rescue the kidnapped Israeli soldier on Palestinian intelligence reports, and scorned the PLO's lack of administrative capability and accountability. 'The problem is that it has never had real responsibility for the lives of people. It has never been in a position to be responsible to feed them, to house them, to take care of education. Gaza and Jericho is their first taste of such responsibility.'

And in almost gratuitous reference to the difficulty of dealing with Israel's Arab neighbours, he said: 'If we waited for democracy to prevail in Arab countries as it prevails in Western democracies, we will have to wait more than 150 years . . .'

Mr Rabin's breakfast remained untouched. He was told of the bomb attack minutes before the breakfast and left London later in the morning, cutting short his visit to Britain after a brief meeting with Tony Blair, the Labour leader.

Because of the unexpected departure, the British Defence Secretary, Malcolm Rifkind, who was due to meet Mr Rabin in London, will today fly to Tel Aviv to begin discussions on Anglo-Israeli defence co-operation, including the possibility of the RAF buying an Israeli air-launched cruise missile.

Mr Rifkind said yesterday that 'progress in the Middle East and the new situation in Gaza have resulted in Israeli proposals to sell arms to the UK on the same basis as anyone else'. A British embargo on arms sales to Israel, in place since Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 1982, was lifted recently.