MALAYSIA’S Prime Minister warned Ariel Sharon yesterday that a “second holocaust” would not defeat the Arab world and that the crackdown on Yassir Arafat would only encourage suicide bombers.
Speaking at the 57-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) in Kuala Lumpur, Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad called on Palestinians and Israelis to stop the “mutual massacre”, as he spread the blame for Middle Eastern terrorism between Israelis and Palestinians.
“The holocaust did not defeat the Jews,” he said, recalling the Nazi attempt to exterminate Europe’s Jews. “A second holocaust with Arabs for victims will not defeat the Arabs either.”
The veteran Malaysian leader, a rare voice of moderation at the OIC, despite facing a Muslim challenge at home, said that Israelis “must come to their senses and opt for de-escalation of terror rather than escalating it”.
He added: “If the Israelis won’t, then the world must forcibly stop them.”
He denounced the Israeli crackdown in the West Bank, including the siege against Mr Arafat in Ramallah, and said that such tactics did not work against terror groups.
“They are not likely to be deterred by the threat of death,” DR Mahathir said. “Killing their leader is not going to help either. More violent leaders will replace the fallen leader and the terror attacks will go on.”
At the start of the three-day conference, DR Mahathir proposed a definition of terrorism encompassing all violence targeted at civilians, which, he said, included the September 11 attacks in Washington and New York, Palestinian and Tamil suicide bombers and Israel’s West Bank assaults.
“I would like to suggest here that armed attacks or other forms of attacks against civilians must be regarded as acts of terror and the perpetrators regarded as terrorists,” he said.
But in tackling terrorists, DR Mahathir said that the root causes behind their violent actions could not be ignored.
“We cannot just dismiss them as senseless perverts who enjoy terrorizing people,” he said. “I don’t think people blast themselves to death because they enjoy it. These are rather the acts of the desperate.” DR Mahathir’s more even-handed approach was described as interesting by foreign diplomats, but did not win much sympathy in the OIC, whose members include Albania, Guyana in South America, and Mozambique in Africa.
Farouk Kaddoumi, head of the Palestinian delegation, said that it was not necessary to condemn suicide bombing, adding that Israel’s capture of his people’s land fueled such attacks. “Occupation”, he said, was the “highest and worst form of terrorism”.
Kamal Kharrazi, the Iranian Foreign Minister, also denounced attacks against civilians, but said that the root causes underlying such attacks had to be addressed.
“We believe that civilians should not be hurt, but at the same time, if we are looking for any solution, we have to remove the root causes of this problem,” he added, blaming Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land for the Middle East bloodshed.
On the first day of its conference, to discuss the definition and roots of terrorism, the OIC, in a unanimous statement, accused Israel of dragging the Middle East towards war and called on the UN Security Council to protect Palestinians. It asked the council and the two cosponsors of the peace process, the United States and Russia, and the European Union to immediately stop Israeli aggression, and to ensure the withdrawal of Israeli troops from all occupied Arab and Palestinian territories.
There have been growing demonstrations around the world against Israel’s military operations.
Some 1,000 people marched outside the US Embassy in the Jordanian capital of Amman and 10,000 Bangladeshis protested in support of Mr Arafat in Dhaka. In Tripoli Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan leader, led a demonstration by thousands against Israel.
Police used teargas and water cannon against protesters in Cairo to stop them reaching the Israeli Embassy.
As protesters gathered in the Palestinian Embassy in Beijing, Tang Jiaxuan, China’s Foreign Minister, called his Israeli counterpart, Shimon Peres, to urge an end to the military crackdown. In Rome the Pope urged people to pray for Bethlehem, decrying the city’s “painful Calvary”.
Copyright 2002 Times Newspapers Ltd.