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SLUG: 3-81 Mustafa Barghouti








/// Editors: This interview is available in Dalet under SOD/English News Now Interviews in the folder for today or yesterday ///

HOST: President Bush is sending Middle East envoy Anthony Zinni back to the region for a third time next week, in a new effort to end 17 months of violence. Mr. Bush said General Zinni will push both sides to agree to a cease-fire plan drawn up by C-I-A Director George Tenet. Both Israeli and Palestinian officials say they welcome the visit. Secretary of State Colin Powell said the violence must be brought down to zero. He said he hopes both sides will respond positively to General Zinni's visit.

Mr. Bush again called on Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to make a maximum effort to end terrorism against Israel. He also appealed to Israel, saying he understands Israel's need to defend itself, but there can never be a peace settlement as long as the country escalates its retaliatory attacks.


HOST: Mustafa Barghouti, president of the Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees, told News Now's Paul Westpheling Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is out of control, and his new policy of attacking Palestinians in an effort to force an end to the violence, will not work.

MR. BARGHOUTI: Mr. Sharon is conducting now a step-by-step massacre against the Palestinian people. On average, we are losing 20 persons every day. The Israeli army is attacking now ambulances. They killed last night two ambulance drivers. And before that they killed a doctor who was in an ambulance, a 57-year-old doctor trying to provide care to people. They are preventing ambulances from reaching the injured people, which is contributing to the very high number of people killed.

It is unprecedented. It is absolutely inhumane what is happening. We are just counting dead people every day -- 20 today (eds note: outdated number), yesterday 18, the day before yesterday 19 -- and it's going on. More than 1,200 Palestinians have been killed up to now by the Israeli Army and around 30-thousand people injured. This is unacceptable, and it cannot be allowed to continue. And Sharon does that because he feels he has a free hand, because the international community is not putting any constraint on him to restrain his abuse of power.

MR. WESTPHELING: Let's look at the other side of the argument. There are some people in the international community who would say that Yasser Arafat is not putting any constraints on these suicide bombers.

MR. BARGHOUTI: Arafat does not control the suicide bombers. And Arafat, I think, cannot do much, since he himself is a prisoner, like all of us. The whole of all of the occupied territories are now just as a prison. Israel is the first country in the world that declared all streets and roads in a country completely under curfew, which means people are unable to use any roads or streets -- Palestinians. Now, all the roads and streets in the West Bank and Gaza can only be used by Israeli settlers. How can anybody control anything? The Israeli Army is attacking one city after the other, they're doing house-to-house searches, destroying the houses in the process, and killing people.

I don't think that any Palestinian leader can control the situation anymore. What we need is an international presence as soon as possible. And Israel is the one that is refusing that. They refuse to negotiate. They refuse to meet. They refuse an international presence. And up to now, they have not accepted mutual efforts.

MR. WESTPHELING: President Bush is sending an American peace envoy, Anthony Zinni, back to the region. Do you hold out much hope that this trip will do any good?

MR. BARGHOUTI: Well, it depends on his behavior. I mean, it is good that he is coming, but, again, lots of time has been wasted and, in the process, lots of lives were wasted because the United States abstained from intervention, saying that the two sides have to decide. Well, leaving the two sides together is like leaving a fierce hungry tiger, like Sharon, alone with a sheep, which is the Palestinians in this case, who don't have an army, don't have Apache helicopters, don't have F-16 jet fighters, and who are being attacked on a daily basis.

The basic problem always has been occupation, Israeli military occupation. And unless this issue is tackled, I don't think we can see progress. What has happened so far is that Sharon is trying, with an increased number of casualties, to sustain an unsustainable occupation. The time has come to implement U-N resolutions, and end this occupation, and allow Palestinians to be free from this enslavement.

HOST: Palestinian human rights activist Mustafa Barghouti spoke with News Now's Paul Westpheling from his office in Ramallah.


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