Israeli officer's seizure timed to encourage Palestinian rising


Hizbullah appears to have escalated its war of attrition against Israel by capturing an Israeli reserve army officer outside the regional theatre of conflict, making Israelis everywhere Hizbullah targets. The announcement yesterday morning by Hizbullah that it had seized the officer was timed to encourage the Palestinians to continue their rising and to demonstrate that the situation is out of control of local and international authorities.

Hizbullah, in the view of sources close to the movement, also sent the message to the Sharm al-Sheikh summit today that the south Lebanese front remains active. Beirut and Damascus cannot be ignored by those trying to bring an end to the current round of hostilities, one informant stated.

The capture of an Israeli officer was reported without elaboration by the movement's Secretary General, Mr Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, during a televised address to a conference of Islamic leaders meeting in Beirut.

But, in line with the policy adopted by Hizbullah since it captured three soldiers on the frontier on October 7th, he refused to divulge who the officer was or where he was taken. "If the Israelis want details, let them search," he said.

While Hizbullah attempted to influence the summit's deliberations by direct action, other radicals, like Islamic Jihad and Hamas, merely condemned the summit as a "useless" exercise. Mainstream papers and personalities also took a negative line on today's meeting.

One Sunday newspaper in Beirut, al-Diyar, carried an editorial saying the Sharm al-Sheikh meeting had been called with the object of undermining the October 21st Arab summit which is expected to adopt a hard line against Israel.

Dr Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestine Legislative Council, agreed and said that Mr Arafat "is going to this summit knowing that Arab public opinion is extremely suspicious".

The West Bank head of Mr Arafat's mainstream Fateh movement, Mr Marwan Barghouti, stated: "The Palestine National Authority has been under pressure to attend the summit" and is going only because it cannot refuse. He predicted the summit would fail.

To prove him right Palestinian protesters continued to demonstrate yesterday. He called the summit "an American attempt to abort the intifada . . . and the Arab summit" which, he said, is expected to make "support for our national rights a top priority." The Israeli Prime Minister, Mr Ehud Barak, reacted angrily to the kidnapping.

"This morning we learned of a grave incident of a terrorist act carried out apparently by elements connected in the end to Hizbullah.

"A private Israeli citizen, a businessman, who has no connection with the defence institutions or system other than the fact he is a reserve officer, like tens of thousands of other citizens in the country, apparently was evacuated to some sort of place in Europe or elsewhere and kidnapped from there in ways that recall the work of a Mafia."

Meanwhile, pro-Western Saudi Arabia took an uncharacteristically tough line. The Saudi daily al-Watan reported that the kingdom's effective ruler, Crown Prince Abdullah, told the US that Riyadh would take "decisive measures" if Israel continues its attacks on Palestinians and to hold onto Palestinian territory, allows Israelis to violate Muslim holy sites and rejects an international commission of inquiry into the violence.

Similar comments made by the prince a week ago sent up the already high price of oil.