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Western Press Review: The Ben Yehuda Bombing--Horror, Anger, Outrage, Hope

  • Don Hill



Prague, 5 September 1997 (RFE/RL) -- The Western press today responded with outrage and a little hope to yesterday's suicide bombings in Jerusalem's bustling Ben Yehuda Street, which killed and injured scores of Israelis.

LOS ANGELES TIMES: Sobbing teenagers clung to one another

Rebecca Trounson describes the scene this way: "The synchronized explosions -- the second such attack in five weeks -- transformed Jerusalem's Ben Yehuda Street from a casual, end-of-summer scene of bustling cafes and souvenir shops to one of carnage and fear. Sobbing teenagers clung to one another in the popular pedestrian mall, and frantic parents searched desperately for missing children."

BALTIMORE SUN: The bombs struck the living room of Jerusalem

In choosing their site, the terrorists (the militant organization Hamas claims to be responsible) invaded an Israeli soft spot. In a news analysis, Ann LoLordo quotes a writer for "The Jerusalem Post" who calls Ben Yehuda Street "the living room of Jerusalem." LoLordo writes: "The punk rockers and the prophets meet on Ben Yehuda Street. (As yesterday's) events proved once again. Ben Yehuda Street also attracts people with murder in mind." She also identifies an irony: "Four years ago, Yitzhak Rabin, prime minister of Israel, shook hands with Arafat over a peace agreement. People danced on Ben Yehuda street that day."

CHICAGO TRIBUNE: Hamas is Israel's major nemesis

Today's edition runs a news analysis by Stephen Franklin on Hamas' background. Franklin says: "Hamas today is Israel's major nemesis in (the nation's) frustrating search for peace with the Palestinians. Since Israel made peace with the PLO four years ago, Hamas has been credited with 13 suicide bombings and remained the single largest opponent among the Palestinians to the peace accords." He writes: "The organization's growing strength was symbolized recently by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's warm public embrace of Hamas leaders at a strategy session."

Franklin offers a reminder that the organization's name literally means what Hamas stands for. It's an acronym in Arabic for the Islamic Resistance Movement. But the Arabic word "hamas" also translates as "zeal."

A number of newspapers editorialize pessimistically on the chances now of Mideast peace. Several place their dwindling stack of hopeful chips on a visit to the Mideast scheduled for U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who is finishing this weekend a vacation in the Czech Republic.

SUDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: This could be the end of the peace process and of Arafat

Josef Joffe writes in a signed editorial that Hamas deliberately is mocking peace efforts. The editorial says: "Unless the Israelis react now with ice-cold reason, this is the end of the peace process -- and of Yasser Arafat. The mangled bodies in Ben Yehuda Street in the heart of Jewish Jerusalem are more than mere mean-spiritedness. Behind the bang of the bomb resounds the cynical, mocking laughter of Hamas."

WASHINGTON POST: Secretary Albright's trip to the Mideast is still on

The paper says in an editorial: "Palestinian terrorists are inflicting a terrible punishment on Israelis whose only offense is to be citizens of their state." The Post concludes with a hopeful glimmer: "President Clinton said yesterday that Secretary Albright's scheduled trip to the Middle East next week was still on. Naturally, the agenda must center on security. That is the foundation on which the search for a negotiated political settlement can best resume."

NEW YORK TIMES: Albright cannot pick up all the pieces in one visit

The paper says today in an editorial: "Terrorist bombers strike, Israel responds by confining Palestinians to the Gaza Strip and West Bank, recriminations fly from both sides, and the Middle East peace effort sinks deeper into paralysis."

The Times also seeks small comfort under Albright's wing: "Albright cannot pick up all the pieces in one visit, her first as secretary of state. But she can help Netanyahu and Arafat see that the terrorists will prevail if Israel and the Palestinian Authority become locked in their own destructive spiral of hostility and punishment. Netanyahu and Arafat must climb above the violence that is engulfing them. Albright can lead the way."

TIMES OF LONDON: Palestinian politicians invite the assumption that Hamas' slaughter is an acceptable strategy

In a long editorial, the paper turns momentarily away from Britain's obsession with the life and death of Princess Diana, to decry the randomness of the terror in Jerusalem. The London newspaper editorializes: "The awful nature of these assaults makes them especially difficult to predict or prevent. Intelligence is almost everything."

The Palestinian leadership has added fuel with its public stance, the newspaper charges: "If Palestinian politicians do not take more credible action against Hamas, then they invite the assumption that selective slaughter is an acceptable strategy. Mr. Arafat deliberately inflamed that impression with his willingness to embrace Hamas and Islamic Jihad at a national unity meeting in the Gaza Strip last month."

The editorial concludes that Albright should demand a change. It says: "The (U.S.) secretary of state rightly will come to the Middle East as had been determined. She should now decide whom to meet on the strength of their stance against Hamas."

NEW YORK TIMES: Some debated whether Albright should postpone her first official visit

News analyses in "The New York Times" and "The Baltimore Sun" examine approvingly Albright's determination to go ahead with her Mideast trip. Steven Erlanger writes in "The Times": "Declaring that the latest suicide bombings in Jerusalem gave even greater urgency to American peace efforts in the Middle East, President Clinton said on Thursday that Secretary of State Madeleine Albright would travel to the region next week as scheduled." Erlanger says: "The bombings caused some debate in Washington and Israel about whether Albright should postpone her first official visit to the region."

BALTIMORE SUN: Israel's security fears will dominate Albright's agenda

Mark Matthews writes: "Clinton and other officials made clear that Israel's security fears would dominate Albright's agenda when she meets next week with Israeli and Palestinian leaders during her first trip to the region. Previously, they had spoken of launching ambitious negotiations on the toughest issues separating the two sides. There has been no progress in negotiations since the United States brokered a pact for the withdrawal of Israeli forces from the volatile West Bank city of Hebron in January."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: Havel spoke of the world's bleak situation at Forum 2000

Writing from the Czech capital, Prague, Dean Murphy analyzes the effect of the terrorist news on a gathering of international intellectuals. Murphy says: "The deadly bombings Thursday in Jerusalem came as a bitter dose of reality (in Prague), where a gathering of acclaimed thinkers is seeking ways out of the world's misery in the next millennium. News of the terrorist attacks was announced to the Forum 2000 conference by author and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel, who is hosting the unusual meeting with Czech President Vaclav Havel."

Murphy adds: "The bombings cast a shadow over the opening of the three-day conference, which had already gotten off to a start more somber than uplifting." Murphy notes: "Although the gathering is meant to inspire hope at the dawn of the new millennium, Havel set a largely gloomy tone in his opening address. The playwright-turned-president spoke of the world's 'bleak situation.' "
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