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INTRO: A group of U-S based Islamic organizations is blaming Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon for provoking the latest violence between Palestinians and Israelis. V-O-A's Candace Williams reports the groups also say Mr. Sharon should be tried as a war criminal.

TEXT: The Islamic groups told a news conference in Washington that Mr. Sharon, the leader of Israel's opposition Likud party, is responsible for the violence that erupted at the start of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.

The trouble began as Mr. Sharon, surrounded by his bodyguards, visited the site of the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount in east Jerusalem. Both Jews and Muslims consider the site sacred.

Yaser Bushnaq, the president of one of the groups at the Washington news conference, Solidarity International for Human Rights, says he believes Mr. Sharon should face war crimes charges because his visit led to what he calls a massacre of civilians.


International law and justice have to be served, and I guess this is the time to take serious initiatives to bring about General Sharon before an international tribune where justice will be served for whatever he has committed as crimes against humanity, not only the Palestinians and the Arabs.

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Mr. Bushnaq also is calling on the United States, European countries, and other nations to bar visits by Mr. Sharon. Others at the news conference in Washington made similar statements, saying military aid and other forms of assistance to Israel should be suspended because of what they call Israel's mistreatment of Palestinians.

But another Middle East expert, Alon Ben-Meir, told V-O-A in a telephone interview that he does not think Mr. Sharon is necessarily to blame. Mr. Ben-Meir -- a New York University professor of international studies -- says Palestinians may have been frustrated by the lack of progress in the Middle East peace process. And he says Mr. Sharon's visit could have been the spark that ignited the violence. He also says it is time for both the Israelis and Palestinians to make a greater effort to secure lasting peace in the Middle East.

/// BEN-MEIR ACT ///

I think both sides should look at themselves and ask themselves the question where do we go from here? The answer is going to be we have to sit down and begin to negotiate again because in the final analysis nothing else is going to work. The Palestinians are not going to defeat the Israelis, and the Israelis are not going to expel and finish the Palestinians. Reality, it is what is is, and the only reasonable, practical realistic solution is for them to sit down and start all over again with the commitment to reach an agreement, however long that might take.

/// END ACT ///

A spokesman for the Israeli embassy in Washington, Mark Regev, also says no one is interested in violence. And, he expressed sympathy over the loss of life triggered by the recent unrest.

U-S Secretary of State Madeleine Albright will meet with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat Wednesday in Paris to discuss the outbreak of violence in the Middle East peace process. (Signed)


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