Israel Searches Convoy for Arafat...Political Brinksmanship Awaits Clock
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Israel Searches Convoy for Arafat...Political Brinksmanship Awaits Clock

December 24, 2001


MID-EAST REALITIES - www.MiddleEast.Org - Washington - 12/24/2001: As the clock ticks toward Christmas Eve and Midnight a grand game of political brinksmanship is underway between the two old protagonists, Ariel Sharon and Yasser Arafat. The Israeli govermnent is itself divided over what to do; but Sharon has personally manuevered to the situation of the moment forcing Arafat to remain under a kind of town imprisonment in Ramallah. But in a play to world public opinion the two major officials in Sharon's government from the other Labor Party -- Defense Minister Ben-Eliezer and Foreign Minister Peres -- have both made soothing public statements about Bethlehem being open to all Christians and how a "Palestinian State" could be only weeks away. And Sharon himself has said that if Arafat (still apparently "relevant" he has proved at least) would now just arrest (rather than turn over to Israel) those who assassinated his close friend, the former Tourism Minister ironically nicknamed "Gandhi", he would change his mind and let Arafat go to Bethlehem for Christmas mass.

The Sharon-Arafat game of political chicken is quite a side-show however, no matter how dramatic at the moment, for what is really taking place in the region and the world. A truly historic and unprecedented U.S-led Israeli-manipulated campaign to restructure the entire Middle East region is ahead for the new year. The regional Arab powers are being warned they better play ball, "you're either with us or against us".

War could break out at any moment between India and Pakistan -- both now nuclear armed -- as their armies are feverishly positioning themselves for battle in a far more significant brinksmanship engagement. And the Americans are preparing to quicky push forward the new crusade said simplistically to be "against terrorism" but actually designed to enforce the American "new world order" first spoken of by George Bush the first. In this context Hollywood is feverisly preparing major propaganda films and advertisements -- it's all dubbed HOLLYWOOD 911 -- including the use of Mohamed Ali for slick paid spots on Arabic TV networks including Al Jazeera and Middle East Broadcasting.


RAMALLAH - DECEMBER 24 - WAFA (Offical Palestine News Agency)- President Yasser Arafat said today that he is determined to make his annual pilgrimage to Bethlehem to attend Christmas midnight mass celebration. "No one can humiliate the Palestinians or make them lose their determination." H. E told reporters after his meeting with H.B. Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah, the top Roman Catholic cleric in the Holy Land.

Asked whether he intended to go to Bethlehem, Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo answered on behalf of the President, saying: "Yes, yes, of course, see you tonight in Bethlehem."

H.B. Sabbah, said he came to show his support for President Arafat. "The dignity of President Arafat is the dignity of all of us," said Sabbah. "The occupation situation is unfair to the Palestinians and they have to have their freedom. This is the message of Christmas." He added.

President Arafat, has attended Midnight Mass in The City of Nativity every year since 1995, when the city of Jesus Christ's birth (Bethlehem) liberated.


By Michele Gershberg

JERUSALEM, Dec 24 (Reuters) - Israel planned to stick to its decision to bar Yasser Arafat's annual Christmas Eve pilgrimage to Bethlehem on Monday unless he arrested the killers of a far-right cabinet minister, Israeli political sources said.

Israeli troops, apparently mindful of the Palestinian president's vow to defy the ban, stopped and attempted to search a convoy carrying Christian religious leaders to Bethlehem after a solidarity visit to Arafat in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

The frail, 72-year-old leader said earlier he would attend Christmas Eve festivities in Palestinian-ruled Bethlehem, revered as the birthplace of Jesus, even if he had to walk from his Ramallah headquarters.

Israel said on Sunday it decided to block Arafat's journey to Bethlehem, through roads sealed off in places by Israeli tanks and troops in the West Bank, because he had failed "to dismantle Palestinian terror organisations."

It was a clear attempt to strike another symbolic blow against Arafat. Israel recently branded him "irrelevant" to efforts to end 15 months of bloodshed, but the United States and much of the international community has opposed the declaration.

A senior Israeli political source said the ban would be lifted only "if he arrests people involved in the killing (of Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi) who are in this evening."

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine took responsibility for assassinating Zeevi in October to avenge Israel's killing of their leader.

Palestinian cabinet minister Yasser Abed Rabbo denied any such condition had been relayed to Palestinian officials as part of international mediation efforts to change Israel's decision.

"It's only in the media, for public relations," he said.


Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah, the first Palestinian to serve as the Catholic Church's senior representative in the Holy Land, led a delegation of clergymen to Ramallah to lend support to Arafat's effort to visit Bethlehem.

"The dignity of the president of the Palestinian people is the dignity of every Palestinian Muslim and Christian," said Sabbah, an outspoken advocate of Palestinian rights.

Arafat told reporters after the meeting: "We send our message to the whole world that no one can humiliate the Palestinian people."

On the way out of Ramallah, Sabbah's Bethlehem-bound convoy was stopped at an army checkpoint and the cars' occupants were ordered out of their vehicles before being allow to proceed, Palestinian security sources said. The army said it was a routine security check.

Israeli forces tightened their blockade on Ramallah overnight -- a move which Israel's Army Radio reported was to prevent Arafat from sneaking out.

Israeli Public Security Minister Uzi Landau said on Monday Israel still viewed a crackdown by Arafat on militants as a priority despite criticism of its ban on the Bethlehem visit.

"Arafat wants to take advantage of this place (Bethlehem) as a political stage to advance his aims," Landau told Israel's Channel Two television.

"We must decide how we want to act -- either to look good pursue (Arafat) as long as two murderers...are walking around Ramallah near him," he said.


A defiant Arafat charged on Sunday that Israeli occupation blocked Palestinian Muslims and Christians from their places of worship and said "no one can prevent me from going" to Bethlehem.

He said on Saturday he would visit the town "even if I have to go there on foot." But it seemed an unlikely trip for a man of Arafat's age and health. Bethlehem lies 20 km (12 miles) south of his headquarters in Ramallah.

Troops blocking every major road have been ordered to prevent Arafat from passing. Even if he evaded checkpoints he would face a long, difficult hike across hilly terrain.

Some Israeli commentators said it was more likely Arafat would drive to an army roadblock with television crews so the world could see him being turned back from visiting a town that interim peace accords have placed under his legal control.

But it was unclear on Monday whether Arafat would seek a Christmas Eve showdown.

Arafat, a practising Muslim, has attended the Christmas Eve midnight mass at Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity every year since the town was turned over to Palestinian rule in 1995.

The violence which flared with the start of a Palestinian uprising in September 2000 has scared most tourists away from Bethlehem -- home to the largest Palestinian Christian community -- and this year's festivities were expected to be subdued.

Within the Israeli cabinet, dovish Foreign Minister Shimon Peres led opposition to the ban on Arafat's visit to Bethlehem.

Arafat has been stranded in Ramallah since Israel destroyed his helicopters in the Gaza Strip, stationed tanks near his Ramallah office and launched air strikes against symbols of his power in retaliation for a wave of suicide attacks.

The United States and the European Union have joined Israel in demanding Arafat dismantle militant groups behind the deadly assaults that killed 29 Israelis in the past month.

At least 790 Palestinians and 233 Israelis have died since the uprising began shortly after peace talks froze.


Bethlehem: 24 December, 2001 (IAP News): Israeli occupation soldiers manning roadblocks and checkpoints outside this town have been harassing and humiliating Christians, including clergymen, converging on the traditional birthplace of Jesus for Monday's midnight Christian mass.

Eyewitnesses testified that soldiers shouted obscenities at the Christians and kept some stranded for hours before being allowed to proceed to Bethlehem.

"It seems that humiliation is the Israeli army's way of asserting authority," said a Catholic clergyman who was awaiting a group of nuns who themselves were awaiting to be allowed to cross the Qalandya roadblock.

The Italian clergyman added with a deep sigh "what kind of education did those soldiers receive?"

Twenty kilometers to the south, at the Bethlehem roadblock, a convoy of more than thirty cars carrying Christian pilgrims on their way to the Church of the Nativity were kept waiting, apparently for no reason.

As the frustration began building, some tourists and clergymen got out of their cars to enjoy the unseasonably warm weather.

Watching them, an Israeli soldier ordered them in a harsh tone to get back into their cars "because it is forbidden."

A tourist, a lady, with an American accent shouted "what is the problem? Why don't you let us go?" The soldiers would only say "shut up."

Meanwhile, the major Christian churches in Palestine published an advertisement in the major Arabic newspaper Monday denouncing the Israeli government decision to bar Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat from attending the Christmas midnight mass at the Church of the Nativity.

The paid ad accused the government of Ariel Sharon of seeking to escalate organized state terrorism against the Palestinian people and the Palestinian Authority.

"This decision amounts to a flagrant attack on religious freedoms and is aimed at corroding the foundations for a just and durable peace in the region."

Meanwhile, Palestinian sources dismissed Israeli claims about relaxing travel restrictions as "propaganda for western consumption."

"As you see, Bethlehem, Beit Sahour and Beit Jala are closed, they have been reduced to a huge detention camp," said Azmi Kukali, a taxi driver from Beit Sahur.

"The Israelis don't distinguish between Muslims and Christians here, We are all legitimate targets for their blind hatred."

On Sunday, the Israeli inner cabinet on security decided to maintain the army encirclement of Yasser Arafat's office in Ramallah, thus preventing the 73-year-old Palestinian leader from visiting Bethlehem.

PA official Yasser Abed Rabbo described the decision as "a nefarious attempt on Sharon's part to undo the Oslo Accords and return to the pre-Oslo period. Sharon understands one language, it is the language of military subjugation and terror."


By Amos Harel

[Haaretz, Tel Aviv, 24 December]: U.S. officials have informed the Syrian and Lebanese governments in recent days that they must stop playing host to terror organizations. According to information that has reached Israel's security establishment, as the final stages in the Afghanistan war effort draw near, the Americans intend to step up pressure against the activity of terror organizations in Syria and Lebanon.

U.S. emissaries visited Damascus and Beirut last week, and submitted their country's demands regarding an end to terrorist organization activity. The U.S. expects that the two states will stop all support for Hezbollah. Such a stoppage will include an end to the flow of money, and also put a halt to the transfer of firearms from Iran via Syria to Hezbollah. The Americans are demanding that Hezbollah be prevented from using Lebanon bases to launch terror strikes against Israel.

The Americans also expect that Syria will put a clamp on activity of radical Palestinian terror groups that have been operating within its borders. Today, organizations such as Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine have large compounds in Damascus.

According to the information that has reached the Israeli security officials, the Americans have yet to give the Syrian and Lebanese governments a target date by which they are supposed to meet demands regarding the crackdown on terror organizations. Yet Israeli officials anticipate that American pressure on the two states will intensify should officials in Damascus and Beirut drag their feet in response to the anti-terror demands.

Since the September 11 attacks in the U.S., Israeli officials have stressed in talks with American counterparts that the Syrians have been deeply involved in sponsoring terror activity. The Israeli officials have been hoping that the American-led war against terror will widen in scope, to encompass groups whose terror activity has been targeted primarily against Israel.

Comment on these article(s)

December 2001


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(December 31, 2001)
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(December 31, 2001)
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(December 31, 2001)
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"We Will Win Nuclear War"! Crisis Escalates Further!
(December 31, 2001)
As the year turns, not since fourty years ago, not since1962 and the "Cuban Missile Crisis", has the world faced the possibility of an iminent orgastic nuclear war between two major countries.

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The Israelis have a vast arsenal of nuclear weapons; and in fact helped instigate the very regional arms race they are now so worried about; then fueled it further by ongoing attempts to crush and subjugate the Palestinians while colonizing still more territories.

Now, let's talk about terrorism, shall we?
(December 30, 2001)
If you are still shaken by the horrifying scenes of September 11, please observe a moment of silence for the 5,000 civilian lives lost in the New York, Washington, DC and Pennsylvania attacks. While we're at it...

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(December 30, 2001)
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(December 29, 2001)
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(December 29, 2001)
Ignoring Yasser Arafat's truce order, two members of the militant Islamic Jihad group on Friday attacked an Israeli army patrol in the Gaza Strip in a failed suicide mission.

(December 28, 2001)
"I wouldn't be the least surprised if there were a nuclear explosion in Israel or the United States." Congressman Chris Shays (R-Conn.) Chairman of the House subcommittee on national security

The Real "OBSTACLE TO PEACE", and Egypt Targets Women - MER FLASHBACK
(December 28, 2001)
It's front-page news! Bill Clinton says Israeli settlements are an "obstacle" to peace. But this isn't the real story; nor are settlements the real obstacle.

(December 26, 2001)
Both India and Pakistan in recent days have deployed substantial combat forces to important strategic areas along their borders and with tension continuing to mount the Indian army has ordered residents in border villages to leave.

Pakistan warns of nuclear conflict with India!
(December 25, 2001)
As in Palestine, the Kashmir conflict originally resulted from Western policies in the last century. Now both conflicts threaten to explode into wars of mass destruction in this century.

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(December 24, 2001)
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(December 24, 2001)
An atmosphere of tension and expectation has descended on Bethlehem as Palestinians wait to see whether their leader, Yasser Arafat, will successfully defy an Israeli ban on his travelling to the town for a highly symbolic Christmas Mass.

Israel Searches Convoy for Arafat...Political Brinksmanship Awaits Clock
(December 24, 2001)
As the clock ticks toward Christmas Eve and Midnight a grand game of political brinksmanship is underway between the two old protagonists, Ariel Sharon and Yasser Arafat.

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(December 23, 2001)
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(December 23, 2001)
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(December 15, 2001)
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(December 14, 2001)
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(December 13, 2001)
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(December 13, 2001)

Israeli Spying in USA, Part II
(December 13, 2001)

Israeli Spying in USA, Part III
(December 13, 2001)

Israeli Spying in USA, Part IV
(December 13, 2001)

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(December 12, 2001)
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(December 12, 2001)
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(December 11, 2001)
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(December 10, 2001)
They started by shaking hands. We said 'Salaam aleikum' - peace be upon you - then the first pebbles flew past my face. A small boy tried to grab my bag. Then another. Then someone punched me in the back. Then young men broke my glasses, began smashing stones into my face and head.

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(December 9, 2001)
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Just Call Me 'Uncle Jim', Saudi Propaganda, Academia Subverted - MER FLASHBACKS
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(December 1, 2001)
More than twenty years ago now another American President was promising a complete "settlement freeze" and a "transitional period" leading to a "Palestinian State". The notion that George W. Bush is doing so for the first time, sui generis, is not only blatantly historically fallacious but downright disingenuous.

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