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Middle East: Tel Aviv 'Child Bombing' Highlights Conflict's Growing Inhumanity

The cycle of violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict rages on. Yesterday, a 16-year-old Palestinian boy blew himself up in an open-air market in Tel Aviv, killing three Israelis and wounding many others. The bombing has again focused attention on the lack of efforts to find a peaceful solution to the decades-long conflict.

Prague, 2 November 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The latest Palestinian suicide bombing underscores the level of inhumanity reached in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

A 16-year-old Palestinian boy from Nablus refugee camp blew himself up in Tel Aviv's main outdoor market, killing three Israelis and injuring more than 30 others.

He was only a child, but he was sent to kill people by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PLFP), which claimed responsibility.
"Every time the moderates in particular have the chance of taking over authority in the Palestinian Authority, we see the extremists doing this."

Childen also continue to be killed on the other side, the latest victim reportedly a 12-year-old boy shot dead by Israeli soldiers.

Veteran Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's departure last week for urgent medical treatment in France was seen as a possible opportunity for the Palestinian and Israeli sides to start defusing tensions. Israel rejects Arafat as being tainted by terrorism and unfit for peace talks.

But as Mideast expert Julian Lindley-French sees it, extremists have an interest in seeing that nothing positive happens.

"Every time the moderates in particular have the chance of taking over authority in the Palestinian Authority, we see the extremists doing this; it is the same dynamic; namely that the hope of some progress between the Palestinians and Israelis makes the extremists -- frankly on both sides -- react in an extreme manner by definition," Lindley-French says.

Lindley-French is a senior analyst with the Geneva Center for Security Policy. He sees the Tel Aviv bombing as evidence of a power struggle between moderates and militants who want to show that the Palestinian struggle will not diminish because Arafat has left.

He also sees the attack as an attempt by militants to provoke the Israelis into reacting with such harshness that any further political progress is impossible.

Israel has not announced any retaliatory action, sticking instead to its stated intention to act with restraint in Arafat's absence -- and thereby, not play into the hands of the militants.

But not everybody agrees that the Tel Aviv bombing was intended by militants as a show of strength.

Nadim Shehady is an analyst with the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London. He tells RFE/RL that the timing of the attack had nothing to do with Arafat's departure.

"What that assumes, is that they [the PLFP] could have done it at any time, but they waited for Arafat [to go], for the right time to do it. But I believe if they could have carried out [the attack] earlier, they would have done so," Shehady says.

Shehady says even though Arafat has left his West Bank command post in Ramallah, he still plays a key role in the Palestinian movement.

"In the bunker he did not have much control there [of events]; he is probably better off in terms of communication and control in a hospital in Paris than he is in that bunker," Shehady says.

Shehady says Arafat remains popular and only he has the stature to unite the Palestinian diaspora and those living in the occupied lands.

That's why Shehady believes if Arafat died, things would worsen rather than improve.

Neither Shehady nor Lindley-French in Geneva believes the U.S. presidential election will easily resolve anything.

"I very much doubt it, because of, point A: the dynamic which has been established between [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon's regime, the Palestinian Authority, and other elements that represent the Palestinians in various forms; and point B: because of the sheer distrust and even hatred on both sides; and point C: because of the uncertainty over the health situation of Yasser Arafat," Lindley-French says.

Lindley-French says that if progress is to be made after the U.S. election it will depend mainly on developing what he calls a "new strategic concept" between the United States and the European allies on how to deal with the problem.

Only in this way, he says, can the trans-Atlantic partners show solidarity that is powerful enough to coax both the Israelis and the Palestinians down the road to peace.