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|israel's 'peace' negotiator|
|11/27/01 at 06:59:41|
this article made me so angry
Hardline general who led death squad is Israel's peace negotiator
Peres sidelined as US envoys begin mission
Suzanne Goldenberg in Jerusalem
Tuesday November 27, 2001
Israel's prime minister, Ariel Sharon, greeted a US peace mission yesterday by shunting aside the Jewish state's most seasoned negotiator, and replacing him with a battle-hardened general.
William Burns, the assistant secretary of state for near east affairs, and Anthony Zinni, the retired marine corps commander, have come to the region to try to impose a ceasefire after 14 months of bloodletting.
The two envoys, whose mission is seen as the first substantial sign of re-engagement in the Middle East by the Bush administration, are to meet Mr Sharon after holding talks with Israeli intelligence officials.
They are to meet the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, tomorrow and are also scheduled to meet the Israeli foreign minister, Shimon Peres.
But Mr Peres, who for the past nine months has worked to deflect international criticism of Mr Sharon's hardline policy towards the Palestinians, will not be leading the negotiating team, an official Israeli statement announced.
Instead Mr Sharon handed a leading role to Meir Dagan, a former general who served under his command in Gaza, and who reputedly drove the first Israeli tank into Beirut during the 1982 invasion.
The two are old friends: Gen Dagan worked on Mr Sharon's election campaign and the Israeli leader has considered rewarding that loyalty by making him chief of Mossad, the Israeli intelligence service.
The appointment of a fellow hawk with a bloody military record as lead negotiator is seen as a clear message to Washington, the Palestinians - who have cruel memories of Gen Dagan - and to Mr Peres and other Labour members of Mr Sharon's government, that the Israeli leader has no intention of abandoning his hardline policies. Mr Peres had wanted to head the negotiating team, and Palestinian officials were dismayed at Gen Dagan's appointment.
Mr Sharon amplified his position with a further rebuff to the US team by repeating his insistence on seven days of absolute quiet before implementing a ceasefire that would require Israel to lift its siege of Palestinian cities, and freeze settlement in the West Bank and Gaza.
The international community is frustrated with Mr Sharon's stand, which it sees as one of the main hindrances to ending the violence. Last week the EU's envoy to the region, Javier Solana, called it "a stupidity".
The twin manoeuvres by Mr Sharon yesterday do not augur well for General Zinni, whose primary task during his two-week stay will be to prevail on Palestinian and Israeli security officials to reach a working arrangement for a ceasefire.
He arrives amid a fresh spasm of violence and heightened tensions, underlined yesterday when a Hamas suicide bomber blew himself up at the Erez border crossing to Gaza, injuring two soldiers.
The attack was the second attempt by Hamas in two days to avenge Israel's assassination at the weekend of their military commander in the West Bank, Mahmoud Abu Hanoud.
At the funeral yesterday for the bomber, Teissir al-Ajarmi, 22, hooded militants from Hamas told the crowds in the Jabalya refugee camp: "We urge the Palestinian Authority to give the freedom fighters a free hand to perform their sacred national duty and to punish the killers."
Also in Gaza, Palestinian hospital officials said five children, including an 18-month-old baby, were wounded by shrapnel overnight when Israeli tanks shelled the Khan Yunis refugee camp. Five children were killed in the southern town on Thursday by an explosive device the Israeli army admitted was planted by its soldiers.
Later yesterday Palestinian gunmen in Beit Jala fired a few rounds at the illegal Jewish settlement of Gilo, near Jerusalem. The action was clearly meant to provoke Mr Sharon into a forceful retaliation; Israeli tanks have invaded Beit Jala twice since last August after firing on Gilo.
The violence was accompanied by a flurry of recriminations as Israel and the Palestinians took steps to ensure they did not face Washington's wrath if Gen Zinni's mission failed. A statement from Mr Sharon's office said: "Arafat has to take a strategic decision to abandon the path of terrorism."
In turn, a senior Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erakat, told the Voice of Palestine radio that the Israelis "are trying to make the American efforts fail even before the envoys reach the region".
Gen Zinni's main task will be to try to find a way of convincing Mr Arafat that cracking down on gunmen and suicide bombers will bring positive gains. Washington has made it clear it expects more from Mr Arafat than the largely token arrests so far.
But even these have confronted the Palestinian leader with the prospect of an open revolt.
For his part, Mr Sharon has made it clear in the appointment of Gen Dagan to head his three-member negotiating team that he has no intention of budging. In many regards the former paratrooper is cut from the same mould as the Israeli prime minister.
A former commando, like Mr Sharon, in the 1970s he headed a unit in Gaza that assassinated dozens of wanted Palestinians, forming the model for the death squad units of the Israeli army who have gunned down or blown up Palestinian militants during this uprising. During Israel's war in Lebanon he helped to create its proxy militia, the South Lebanese Army. On retirement from the army in 1995 he served as an adviser to several governments.
Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2001
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