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Israel Steps Up Rhetoric Against Syria

By Sonja Pace (VOA-Jerusalem)

Israel is stepping up its rhetoric against neighboring Syria, with senior officials publicly blaming Damascus for Tuesday's suicide bus bombings in the southern Israeli city of Be'er Sheva. Syria denies the accusations and says Israel is heightening tensions in the region.

Shortly after the Be'er Sheva attack, unidentified security sources were being quoted as pointing an accusing finger at Syria. But, now senior Israeli officials have come out publicly accusing Damascus of involvement. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon says the order for the Be'er Sheva attacks came directly from the Damascus headquarters of the Islamic militant group, Hamas.

Other senior officials are also saying this latest provocation cannot be ignored. Deputy Defense Minister Zeev Boim says Israel has to consider military action. Boim says Israel needs to draw what he calls a red line that cannot be crossed. But he says that any military action should be limited in order to not ignite a larger conflict.

In Damascus, the official Syrian news agency quotes Foreign Minister Farouk al-Shara as saying the Israeli accusations lack credibility and any sort of evidence. He adds they will only heighten tensions in the region. And, in a statement from Damascus, Hamas said the planning and execution of suicide attacks was carried out by local commanders in the Palestinian territories, not in the group's political office in Syria. Hamas political leader Khaled Mashaal is based in Damascus.

Israel has long accused Syria of harboring and supporting groups such as Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Hizbullah, all of which have been behind numerous attacks against Israel over the years. All three groups are also listed as terrorist organizations by the State Department.

Syria denies it supports terrorism. Damascus says it has given refuge to some Palestinian militants who have not been allowed by Israel to return to their homes in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Officials insist Syria offers moral support but no military training. Last October, Israel bombed what it said was a terrorist training camp inside Syria, following a suicide bomb attack on a restaurant in the port city of Haifa.

Negev Leaders: Finish Southern Fence Quickly

By Ha'aretz

Negev community leaders urged Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz on Thursday to finish constructing the southern section of the separation fence as soon as possible, saying the government had previously promised it would accelerate the process, Army Radio reported.

A dispute between Sharon and the defense establishment and Justice Ministry is delaying approval of the route of the separation fence in the region of the southern Hebron Hills, through which the terrorists who carried out Tuesday's Be'er Sheva suicide attacks infiltrated Israel.

The section must be finished quickly so as to prevent the next disaster, wrote Shmuel Rifman, head of the Ramat Hanegev regional council and chairman of the Negev Development Authority of Israel, in his request to the government. Rifman attached to his request an announcement by an adviser to the prime minister, who had said that Sharon ordered the section's hasty construction.

The announcement said Sharon had instructed officials dealing with the fence to accelerate the planning and construction of the southern section of the fence, in accordance with any relevant legal procedures, according to Army Radio. The original route of the fence that was approved by the government last year positioned the barrier north of the Susia, Maon and Carmel settlements, leaving large expanses of land beyond the Green Line on the "Israeli" side of the fence.

Following the High Court of Justice ruling from June, when the government was instructed to take the Palestinian residents into consideration, a new line was planned for the fence, further to the south. The new route leaves only the settlements of Eshkolot, Livne and Metzudat Yehuda - all three are adjacent to the Green Line - inside the boundaries of the fence.

On Sunday, Sharon took a helicopter tour over the seam line expanse in the southern Hebron Hills area and was shown the amended fence route proposed by the defense establishment. Sharon rejected the proposal and demanded changes. He is expected to hold a meeting on the fence's southern route next week.

Palestinian Authority Condemns Bombings in English; Praises Them in Arabic


While official Palestinian Authority statements condemned the double suicide attack in Be'er Sheva, the PA's Arabic media were telling a different story. English and Arabic reports in the PA were also at odds with each other.

Palestinian Media Watch (PMW), a watchdog organization overseeing the PA's media, reports that the official PA daily paper granted the status of "Shahid" - Holy Martyr - to the two suicide terrorists who murdered 16 Israelis in Be'er Sheva on Tuesday. This definition of the murderers as Shahids in the opening sentence of the top story of the PA's official Al Hayat al-Jadida newspaper stood in sharp contrast to the English-language "condemnations" issued shortly after the attack by PA official to international media.

Reaching the status of Holy Martyr "is a supreme achievement in Islamic teaching," reports PMW, "granting the Shahid the greatest rewards in the afterlife and a place of honor in Paradise near Mohammed's Comrades and the Prophets."

PMW's Itamar Marcus and Barbara Crook also noted a sharp contrast between the English and Arabic news broadcasts on PA TV. The three Arabic language news reports following the Tuesday attack, each 20-30 minutes long, made no mention whatsoever of the mass murder of 16 Jews. The Arafat-controlled English language newscasts, on the other hand, which target foreign audiences and media, told of the attack and the PA condemnations.

Moreover, wrote PMW's Marcus and Crook, while the PA officials condemned the attack, the reason they gave "was that it harmed PA 'national interests' - and not that it was morally wrong." The PA statement explained, "the Palestinian national interests require not to harm civilians in order not to give Israel the pretexts to continue its military aggression against the Palestinian people and their holy sites."

Wednesday morning's PA TV Arabic news finally reported the attack, together with the condemnations explaining that it was "not in national interest to harm civilians in order not to give Israel the pretexts to continue its military aggression against the Palestinian people."

PMW notes that PA policy has long been not to condemn Palestinian suicide terror on moral grounds but only on grounds of "national interest," and never to condemn the terrorists, who are all granted Shahid status. For example, an open letter by Hannan Ashrawi, Sari Nusseibeh, and other leading PA figures in June 2002 calling for a halt to suicide terror against civilians stated, "We believe that these operations do not advance the fulfillment of our endeavor, for freedom and independence... Military actions are defined positively or negatively not by its own criteria [i.e. the success of the attack itself] but rather according to the achievement of political goals."

German FM Says He Will Try to Move Rosh Hashanah Soccer Match

By Ha'aretz

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said he would work to change the date of a soccer game between Maccabi Tel Aviv and Bayern Munich of Germany that falls on Rosh Hashanah. The European Champions League game is scheduled for Sept. 15, the start of the Jewish New Year.

European soccer governing body UEFA said last week that Maccabi Tel Aviv missed a deadline for filing a request for a change. Maccabi said it had informed UEFA on June 9 that it wanted a different time for the game.

A game played in Israel on Rosh Hashanah could be expected to draw a relatively sparse crowd, as Israelis traditionally observe the holiday with a festive family meal. This would be a big financial blow to Maccabi, which is counting on large attendance to generate much-needed revenue.

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