NEWS BRIEFS:

US accused of hypocrisy in dealing with Syria, Sudan

Four months after President Bill Clinton signed a law prohibiting US companies from dealing in countries suspected of sponsoring terror, Washington gave permission for American companies to do business with Syria and Sudan.

Chairman of the US House Foreign Relations Committee Benjamin Gilman has protested the decision which was taken last August in a bid to encourage Syria to continue talking peace with Israel and urged equal treatment for all 'rogue regimes". The rule was also waived for Sudan, in order to allow American oil companies to do $930 million in business there. The major company concerned, Occidental Petroleum, had made substantial contributions to the Clinton election campaign. State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns said the government places terror supporters into two groups:

  1. Iraq, Iran, Libya, Cuba and North Korea
  2. Syria and Sudan
Along with Iran, the Sudanese regime is considered the major state supporter of terrorism. Director of the American Anti-Slavery Group, Dr Charles Jacobs, called on Clinton to rescind the special waiver granted Occidental to do business with Sudan. He said the loophole both undermined America's anti-terrorism policy, and ensured that "the Islamic fundamentalist government will continue to murder, enslave and forcibly convert its own black non-Muslim population with ever greater intensity".

Recently the US threatened to cancel aid to South Africa after Pretoria said it was considering a deal to sell military equipment to Syria. Two successive US administrations have been accused by critics of overlooking Syrian crimes such as its alleged links to outrages in Lockerbie and Dharan, Saudi Arabia in their efforts to woo Hafez el-Assad into a comprehensive Middle East peace deal.

Israeli Intelligence "Underestimated Arafat"

Yasser Arafat has destroyed the Israeli intelligence network in the disputed territories, has full control over the Islamic terror group Hamas, and is ready for a military confrontation with Israel, according to a "revolutionary reassessment" of the PLO chairman by Israeli intelligence services.

The Washington Times reported in January that the Israelis had concluded they had dangerously underestimated Arafat. For the past four years, Israeli security chiefs have worked from the assumption that Arafat had no option other than to co-operate with Israel; that he faced a serious threat from Hamas; and that he had to maintain Israeli goodwill to gain further diplomatic concessions. They believed this "dependence" on Israel would keep Arafat in check.

Now, however, they believe he is preparing for a violent confrontation with Israel which could escalate into war; that Hamas poses no threat to Arafat due to his ruthless security police; and that Arafat is able to "turn on and off" Palestinian popular protests in areas he controls.

"EU Should Boycott Arafat Because of Human Rights Abuses"

Palestinian human rights activist Bassam Eid called last month on European governments to impose sanctions on the PLO Authority in response to its violations of human rights in areas under its control.

Speaking in London on January 29, Eid said the PA had created a climate of fear among Palestinians. All dissent had been quashed, and any criticism was viewed as defamation. He said torture and arbitrary arrest were routine and that human rights groups are too frightened to speak out against the Arafat regime. Just over a year ago, Eid, then a fieldworker for the Israeli human rights group B'tselem, was kidnapped from his Jerusalem home by Yasser Arafat's personal security unit Force 17, after earlier criticism of PLO human rights abuses. He left B'tselem after the organisation decided no longer to monitor violations by the PA.

Eid quoted PA Police Ministry statistics to the effect that there were officially 80,000 "PLO policemen" (the PA is allowed 24 000 in terms of agreements signed with Israel), which he said excluded thousands of "preventive security" officers, plain-clothes men and intelligence agents. He questioned the need for such a large security force to police a population of just two million and noted that many of the officers were convicted killers.

Eid called on EU states to impose sanctions on the PA, instead earmarking their donations for social projects. He also called on leftist Israelis to bring up human rights issues when meeting Arafat, rather than merely discussing ways to advance the peace process. At least 12 Palestinians have died in PLO custody since the PA was ceded control over areas of Judea-Samaria and Gaza in 1994.

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