Posted Saturday, December 16, 2000

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The Times
December 16, 2000

Israeli soldiers watch envoy attacked

Sam Kiley

FOLLOWING Palestinian traffic on a detour along a West Bank dirt road, the British diplomat's party halted at the spot where a bus blocked the way. Armed Jewish settlers swarmed towards his car.

Brandishing their weapons, they ignored warnings that they were endangering the life of Britain's de facto ambassador to the Palestinians, Robin Kealy.

"Then a woman took a rock the size of a loaf of bread and tried to bash it through our back window. Fortunately, the car is armoured so it just chipped some glass and bounced off," Mr Kealy, the Consul-General in East Jerusalem and Britain's most senior representative to the Palestinians, said. "What was staggering and is now the subject of an official complaint to the Israeli authorities is that the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) soldiers standing watching did nothing to stop this attack."

Francis Cornish, Britain's Ambassador to Israel, said yesterday that he expected a thorough investigation into the incident. It speaks volumes about the Israeli Army, which has been accused of conniving in settler attacks.

Senior Israeli army officers, military analysts, diplomats and human rights groups have been openly critical of what they have described as the "excessive use of force" by the IDF in combating the "al-Aqsa intifada", in which six Palestinians were killed yesterday, bringing the Palestinian death toll to 273, plus 13 Arab Israelis. Israel's death toll stood at 38 yesterday.

Anxious to end the bloodshed, Israeli and Palestinian sources said yesterday that they were optimistic that peace talks could resume, possibly in Washington next week, after a meeting between Yassir Arafat, the Palestinian leader, and Shlomo Ben Ami, Israel's Foreign Minister. Mr Ben Ami said that talks with Mr Arafat had been "exceptional".

To ensure that the discussions succeed, both sides will have to overcome the hatred engendered by weeks of violence in which more than a third of the Palestinians killed have been children. Some Israeli military experts have complained that the use of snipers rather than non-lethal weapons to control rioters has fuelled the intifada.

Palestinian gunmen have stepped up their attacks on settlers in the past three weeks and Israel has responded with a "shoot-to-kill" policy, in which almost a dozen alleged "terrorists" and at least four civilians have been killed.

Nonetheless, this week Amos Harel, defence correspondent of the Ha'aretz newspaper, said: "Key members of the defence establishment are increasingly convinced that Israel has frequently been using excessive force against the Palestinians".

Unlike Palestinian gunmen, who face no sanctions from their own forces of law for attacks on Israelis, Israeli troops are supposed to use live ammunition only if their lives or the lives of other people are in immediate danger.

These rules have been applied loosely, however, resulting in the shooting of more than a dozen journalists and scores of children. There has also been well-documented tolerance of settler attacks by the Israeli army on Palestinians, who have been shot at and had their homes invaded.

An Israeli officer and a soldier are reported to be facing courts martial for the shooting of Yola Monakhov, 26, an Associated Press photographer, who suffered serious stomach injuries when she was shot by a soldier at a range of about 50 yards in Bethlehem on November 11. At first the army denied that any shots had been fired at the time she was wounded and admitted responsibility only under pressure from the media.

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