2001 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd
09 December 2001 19:36 GMT

UN chief accuses Israel of terrorising Palestinians

War on terrorism
By Phil Reeves in Gaza City
08 December 2001

The United Nations Human Rights Commissioner, Mary Robinson, called on Israel
to stop bombing the West Bank and Gaza Strip, saying that they were
"terrorising and terrifying the civilian population".

Her remarks, which came amid an intense Israeli publicity campaign to
convince the world that it is conducting a "war on terror" akin to President
George Bush's, were coupled with a call for Israel to allow international
monitors into the area.

She spoke on the same day that Israel, bolstered by reassurances from the
United States and Britain that it is entitled to "defend itself", sent Fb16
warplanes to drop two large bombs in a Gaza Strip police compound, surrounded
by residential buildings and close to a medical clinic.

The force of the explosions was enough to blow apart two empty four-storey
buildings, sending lumps of glass and concrete flying hundreds of yards,
injuring 20 nearby residents and traumatising many more.

The bombs were separated by about 15 minutes, so that anyone who ventured
into the area in search of victims would have been at risk from the second

The same tactic was used by Hamas suicide bombersone week ago in Jerusalem,
whose attacks b provoked by the assassination of a Hamas leader b prompted
Israel to lash back with two days of aerial assaults, suspended until yes
terday because of bad weather. Twenty minutes after the suicide bombers
detonated themselves b massacring 10 others, aged between 14 and 20 b a car
bomb went off close by, when the emergency services had arrived in force, but
luckily failed to kill anyone.

Yesterday's bombardment was not the same as the suicide bombing attacks on
randomly selected civilians, designed to slaughter as many people as
possible. Israeli commanders knew the compound was empty. But there was
nothing to suggest that the bombardment had much to do with self-defence.

The Israeli armed forces said that the target was a factory producing
mortars, and came after eight mortar firings on Jewish settlements b
illegally built in Gaza by Israel b within 24 hours. But the compound has
been bombed heavily before, so it was a highly unlikely site for a
bomb-making centre. There was no evidence of mortar-making equipment in the
detritus, spread over hundreds of square metres.

If it was an attack on Yasser Arafat's security forces, it was curiously
illogical. The same policemen now under intense pressure from Israel, the
United States and others to arrest scores of Islamic militants will be even
less inclined to do so. A day earlier, they battled with an angry crowd,
killing one youth, when they sought to place the spiritual leader of Hamas,
Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, under house arrest.

But the bombing was also clearly about sowing terror. Those who witnessed the
bombs b including The Independent, whose hotel was less than half a mile away
b heard two enormous crashes. The entire city must have heard the sudden roar
of jet engines, followed by a mighty crash, and a giant plume of dust,
visible even against the night sky. The sinister noise of unseen combat
helicopters could be heard out over the Mediterranean.

The children of Gaza who heard the crashes b not for the first time in this
battered city b will have another permanent mental bruise, and another reason
to hate. The police who heard it, knowing that their main headquarters are
now almost completely flattened, will have another reason to fudge Mr
Arafat's orders. And Mr Arafat will have another reason to say one thing to
Western diplomats and another to his people.

Once again, Israel's military conduct raised questions about Ariel Sharon's
ultimate goal. The debate on this issue took a new twist yesterday when
Bulent Ecevit, the Prime Minister of Turkey, Israel's closest regional ally,
revealed that Mr Sharon had told him Israel wanted to "be rid of" Mr Arafat.
"During my telephone conversation the other day with Prime Minister Sharon,
it became very clear that Israel was inclined towards war," he said. "In
fact, Mr Sharon openly expressed their desire to be rid of Mr Arafat."

This is an ambition now shared by Mr Sharon's electorate. In a Gallup poll,
more than half those surveyed supported the toppling of Mr Arafat and seven
out of 10 backed what was described as "massive military retaliation".

None of this bodes well for the wildly mishandled attempts to use diplomacy
to solve this crisis. The bombings came a day after Egypt had sent its
Foreign Minister to meet Mr Sharon. Despite everything, a joint security
meeting, brokered by the US envoy Anthony Zinni, went ahead b but with no
hope of achieving much.