U.S. rebukes remarks by Sharon

Israeli leader warns against appeasement

Terrorism Strikes America

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October 06, 2001|By Mark Matthews and Peter Hermann | Mark Matthews and Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - The White House denounced as "unacceptable" yesterday a warning from Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that the United States should not try to "appease the Arabs at our expense" the way the West sought to placate Hitler in 1938.

The angry public exchange deepened a rift between the two allies as Washington tries to calm Israeli-Palestinian violence while winning Arab and Muslim support for its drive to defeat Mideast-rooted terrorists held responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States.

On Thursday, Sharon said: "I call on the Western democracies, and primarily the leader of the Free World - the United States: Do not repeat the dreadful mistake of 1938, when enlightened European democracies decided to sacrifice Czechoslovakia for a `convenient temporary solution.' Do not try to appease the Arabs at our expense - this is unacceptable to us. Israel will not be Czechoslovakia."

"The president believes that these remarks are unacceptable," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said yesterday. "Israel can have no better or stronger friend than the United States and better friend than President Bush."

He said Secretary of State Colin L. Powell relayed Bush's views in a phone call yesterday morning to Sharon.

An administration official called the dispute a one-day episode that wouldn't damage the two countries' close ties, but not before the State Department reacted sharply to the latest episode of Israeli-Palestinian violence, including an Israeli army incursion into hills above the West Bank town of Hebron after Sharon's defiant speech.

Powell spoke with Sharon of the need to "stop provocative acts," spokesman Richard Boucher said. Incursions into Palestinian zones, "targeted killings" and house demolitions escalate tensions and undermine efforts to halt the violence, he said. He also said Palestinians "must pre-empt violence, halt shooting attacks on Israelis and arrest those responsible for violence and terror."

Sharon's statement reflected a growing worry in the Israeli government that it will be forced to pay the price of the U.S. battle against terrorism. Israeli officials were disappointed that Bush failed to make Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the terror groups that most directly threaten Israel, a high-priority target in his anti-terrorism campaign.

They also felt that, in declaring support for Palestinian statehood Tuesday, Bush gave Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat a windfall that will make him even less willing to suppress violent attacks on Israelis.

"From the Palestinian perspective, this was Christmas," an Israeli Embassy official said. "What the Israelis are asking is, `What did the Americans get in return? Did [Arafat] commit to stop violence? There is a fear that Arafat will think he doesn't have to keep commitments."

Sharon's statement compared the U.S. drive to build a coalition with what is widely viewed as one of the most shameful acts of Western diplomacy of the 20th century: the appeasement of Hitler that allowed him to take over a large swath of Central Europe before World War II. Alluding to Israel's feeling of isolation, he also said, "we can only rely on ourselves."

In almost daily phone calls to Sharon and Arafat, Powell has been warning both that their continuing violence will be viewed more harshly by the world in the wake of the terror attacks.

Meanwhile, moderate Arab leaders, whose support and cooperation Bush needs in the new war on terror, are pressing the administration to take a stronger role in ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. "What is important is that the United States deals with the conflict in a direct and sustained manner and that they understand that a long-term effort against terrorism will have to include dealing seriously with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," a senior Arab diplomat said yesterday. "They have to convince the Palestinians that an endgame is in sight. That endgame is the end of occupation."

In the Israeli raid into Palestinian-controlled territory outside Hebron, seven Palestinians were killed as army troops positioned tanks on hilltops around Hebron, shelled buildings, imposed a curfew, detained youths in a school and turned civilian buildings into military outposts.

The raid followed several fierce Palestinian attacks in recent days, including a rampage through a Jewish settlement in the Gaza Strip and a shooting spree at a bus station in northern Israel, which together left five people dead.

In the incursion, soldiers removed a dozen families from their homes in the village of Abu Sneineh and turned the civilian buildings in Palestinian territory into military outposts. Soldiers set up heavy-caliber machine guns on the rooftops and raised the Israeli flag.

Hebron is a divided West Bank city south of Bethlehem where 400 Jews live surrounded by 120,000 Palestinians and high hills. Gunmen shoot down into the Jewish enclave in the city center daily and wounded two women Tuesday as they prayed on the Jewish holiday of Sukkot.

"The situation in the city had become intolerable," said Israeli Brig. Gen. Jerry Yitzhak Gershon at a news conference yesterday. "We must stress and say that we are working in a very complicated situation, and we are doing everything ... not to hurt innocent people."

The Israeli incursion appeared to end a two-week period of Israeli restraint in which the army withdrew tanks from around some Palestinians cities.

Palestinian officials complain that the army is not interested in a peaceful solution and thwarts political gains by launching attacks.

Peter Hermann contributed to this article from Jerusalem.

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