By Munir K. Nasser
Chief Correspondent, Washington, DC
The State Department issued a warning to all US government personnel from traveling to the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem because of the tense situation in those areas.
A State Department official told Albawaba.com that the US Embassy in Tel Aviv and the Consulate General in east Jerusalem have issued a series of notices advising American citizens from traveling to those areas. They were also advised to avoid east Jerusalem and the Old City and “to exercise caution inside Israel where disturbances took place on October 1.”
The official said that the Israeli and Palestinian sides are not doing enough to control the situation.
“We have a terrible situation in which people are being killed and wounded,” he said. “Both sides need to do everything they can to calm and control events on the ground.” He refused, however, to say which side is to blame for escalating the conflict, saying that both sides need to do a better job of restoring calm.
The State Department official denied that there were plans for Secretary of State Madeleine Albright or Middle East Peace Envoy Dennis Ross to travel to the Middle East. He said, however, that top officials of the Clinton Administration “have been intensively engaged in supporting efforts to end the violence.” He confirmed that a meeting would be held in the region between security officials from the Palestinian and Israeli sides to review the situation and find ways to end the violence.
The AFP reported, however, that a meeting between Albright, Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak in Paris Wednesday.
When asked to evaluate the impact of the current violence on the peace process, the official said the ongoing violence “demonstrates the urgent need to bridge the remaining gaps and achieve an agreement.” He warned that neither party could expect to get everything it desires in a peace agreement. He reiterated that the US is ready to support both sides “as they make the difficult, but necessary, decisions for peace.”
When asked to comment if the US considers Likud opposition leader Ariel Sharon’s visit to the holy Islamic sites last Thursday provoked the violence, the official admitted that the visit has created the tension. “Clearly this is a sensitive place for …Muslims and Jews; the needs and interests of both sides there have to be respected, and provocations that could lead to tension need to be avoided,” he stressed.
ARAB AND MUSLIM AMERICANS CONDEMN ISRAELI ATROCITIES
In another development, the American Muslim Political Coordinating Council (AMPCC), along with major Arab and Muslim organizations issued a joint statement on Monday denouncing recent attacks by Israeli armed forces on civilian demonstrators and calling on presidential candidates to condemn Israel's actions.
The Muslim and Arab-American leaders said that “American taxpayer dollars are being used to finance this mass murder." They urged the US government to demand that Israeli forces withdraw from Palestinian cities and holy sites, and to stop turning a blind eye to Israeli aggression.
"Our government has the political and financial leverage necessary to help stop the killing of Palestinian civilians. Now is the time to use that leverage," said Omar Ahmad, board chairman of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Washington-based Islamic advocacy group.
The statement was signed by the following organizations that represent the estimated six million Arabs and Muslims in America:
American Muslim Alliance (AMA), American Muslim Council (AMC), Council on
American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC)
Other sponsors: Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), Islamic Circle
of North America (ICNA), American Muslims for Jerusalem (AMJ), Islamic
Association for Palestine (IAP), Muslim American Society (MAS), American-
Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), Arab American Institute (AAI).
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