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Analysis: Ongoing Violence In the Middle East

Weekend Edition Saturday: June 22,2002



This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

The Israeli army now has apparent approval to go ahead and gradually reoccupy West Bank cities and towns. The Israeli security Cabinet approved this shift in strategy this week after three Palestinian attacks killed 33 Israelis. Yesterday, Israeli troops killed 10 Palestinians, only one of whom was involved in an attack against Israelis. The Israeli army apologized for four of the deaths at a market in Jenin. NPR's Peter Kenyon joins us from Jerusalem.

Peter, thanks for being with us.

PETER KENYON reporting:

Well, hi, Scott.

SIMON: And what's the situation there on the ground today?

KENYON: Well, Israeli tanks and troops are moving again. As you mentioned, they're in several West Bank areas. Israeli defense officials are sounding quite hard-line this morning. One official said the earlier military operation from March didn't go far enough, and this time he said Israel is preparing a crushing and decisive response. And if that means seizing and holding Palestinian areas for an extended time, so be it.

SIMON: As Israel itself has frequently noted, urban warfare is just about the most dangerous for civilians in those area and certainly even the soldiers going in. That certainly proved to be the case yesterday for Palestinians.

KENYON: It did, Scott. In Jenin a number of residents were told, erroneously, as it turns out, that the curfew on the city had been lifted, they gathered at a local market, fruit and vegetable stand, and the army says two tank crews took them for suspicious figures violating the curfew and fired warning shots. Those warnings consisted of tank shells and machine gun fire. Three children, age 6 to 12 were killed, along with a schoolteacher, according to hospital officials. The army said the tank crew erred in that firing. In Gaza, one Palestinian armed with grenades was shot and killed, but two Palestinian workers in the area, just bystanders, were also killed. So, yes, it's a dangerous situation, and neither side seems to see any way out of it.

SIMON: And this follows deaths this week in which Jewish settlers were blown up and gunned down, doesn't it?

KENYON: It has. It was a very difficult week for these settlers, some on the outskirts of Jerusalem. And then the third attack occurred in Itamar near Nablus. A gunman killed a mother and her three sons, the youngest just five years old, and a security guard as well. After the funeral yesterday, some angry settlers entered a nearby Palestinian village, shooting and setting fires. A 22-year-old Palestinian was killed. This has reignited a frequent debate here. Some settlers are complaining that Israel doesn't do enough to protect them out on the West Bank. Other are saying if they could only afford to move out of the West Bank, they would.

SIMON: Have you had a chance to visit any of the Jewish settlements that have been affected or feel on the line or, for that matter, Palestinian camps?

KENYON: I have, actually. I have visited both settlements and spoken to two different varieties of settlers, those who are looking to get out and those who say, `We're never leaving. This is our land by divine right, and it's up to the army to protect us, or God,' in some cases. And I've also been getting into some Palestinian villages, but I must say that as these military operations heat up, it becomes more and more difficult. You remember in March, getting into Jenin and Nablus, for example, was extremely hard, and there's no sign that that policy is changing, despite sharp criticism from the international press.

SIMON: And any sign of anything besides violence, any kind of diplomatic activity?

KENYON: Well, there really is the appearance of a vacuum here as far as diplomacy goes. I spent much of the last week in Cairo. Arabs are anxious for the US to step in. They say every time he waits and delays he only emboldens the radical Palestinians who are trying to block the peace process to begin with. On the other hand, everyone pretty much says that nothing that's been floated by Washington so far would have any immediate impact on the ground.

SIMON: Peter, thanks very much. NPR's Peter Kenyon in Jerusalem.

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