Middle East casualties mount
Last week began with Ehud Barak ordering a missile attack on the offices of the political faction and personal security forces of Yasser Arafat. No casualties were reported. The week ended with a tentative cease-fire proposal with both Mr Arafat and Mr Barak to issue public appeals for an end to the bloodshed. That did not happen. During the week casualties continued to mount. A four-person delegation from the International Action Centre (IAC) went on a humanitarian and fact-finding mission to Palestine. The delegation's aim was to document the events unfolding in the region and to bring medical supplies for Palestinian hospitals which have been declared a state of medical emergency due to the heavy casualties inflicted by the Israeli armed forces. The delegation presented a donation of antibiotics, wound dressings and sutures and witnessed widespread damage from Israeli automatic weapons and tank fire. The delegation also commented that the usually crowded streets of Bethlehem were completely empty. By evening there was no one in the streets, lights were out, the tourist hotels were completely deserted. The delegation also witnessed the shelling of Palestinian towns. This is how the IAC organiser Dick Becker described his experience: "... Then the rocket hit across the street and destroyed the office and blew up the whole front of the square unit apartment building. There was massive debris everywhere, including pieces of missile inside. "There was another house where according to the neighbours the people had just left five minutes before the rocket hit. This house suffered structural damage, large pieces of stone from the house lying in front of it, the windows were all blown out." Dick Becker remarked that the people were well aware that the weapons for the shelling were made in the United States. "One man who had lived for many years in an apartment upstairs picked up a piece of a wall that was blown into his apartment, through his window from the house that was blown up across the street. He held it up and said, `I want to send a message to President Clinton, I want to send it back to him.'" The Israeli parliament (Knesset) reopened after a three-month recess. In a 35-minute speech to Parliament Mr Barak repeated the assertion that he "had left no stone unturned" in the pursuit of peace, accused Mr Arafat of being a poor "partner for peace" and called on Israeli people to unite in a time of crisis. Israeli-Arab MPs held up photographs of 13 Israeli Arabs shot dead by Israeli police officers shouting: "You killed peace! You murdered it!" Before the Parliament opened, a political deal was struck between Mr Barak and the Orthodox Shas party. Shas agreed to give Mr Barak one month's grace during which he will be able to deal with the present conflict without fear of being toppled. Shas's backing has temporarily diffused the situation for Mr Barak who had unsuccessfully sought to form an emergency unity government with Ariel Sharon, leader of the opposition Likud party. Actions against Israel's policy towards Palestinians continue in different forms. One statement, signed by 188 Jews from Israel and other countries, calls for a suspension of all US aid to Israel. Stanley Heller, coordinator of the effort said, "Some of the media have given the impression that Jews are solidly behind the actions of Ehud Barak. This is not accurate. The people who signed on to the letter feel Israeli Government actions to be so wrong that they are making an unprecedented step of calling for a suspension in aid to Israel." The statement says: "We Jews, citizens of the state of Israel and of other countries, are sickened that the Barak Government would let the war criminal Ariel Sharon enter a Palestinian area and provoke terrible violence. "Unfortunately this just illustrates the determination of the current Israeli Government to keep Palestinians permanently separate, unequal, closed up in small territories, and exiled in foreign lands. "We protest the ever escalating violence against Palestinians. We urge the US Congress to suspend all foreign aid to Israel."