Website wars in the Middle East

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Wed Oct 25 14:55:22 MDT 2000

NY Times, October 25, 2000

Guns, Stones Are Stilled but Internet Battle Rages


JERUSALEM, Oct. 25 — A relative calm prevailed on the streets of the West
Bank and Gaza Strip for the third day today, with no major demonstrations
or confrontations at Israeli roadblocks and only a few minor clashes under
gray, storm-lashed skies.

Both sides seemed to be taking a deep breath and considering their options
on a day when both Prime Minister Ehud Barak of Israel and the Palestinian
leader, Yasir Arafat, received telephone calls from President Clinton
asking them to work toward quelling the violence, which, in the last three
weeks that has taken more than 130 lives — nearly all of them Arab. Mr.
Barak's chief of staff, Gilead Sher, said that tensions seemed to be easing
and suggested that, if behind-the-scenes efforts being brokered by the
Americans in the wake of the Sharm el Sheik talks were successful, Israel
might move its troops back from the outskirts of the Palestinian areas
where they have been the target of protests.

"If it continues to be calm, and by the way, since last night there's a
feeling things have calmed down on the Palestinian side," Mr. Sher told
Israel radio, "we will do our part and withdraw our forces according to the
Sharm understandings."

But if the stone-throwing has slackened, warfare seems to have broken out
in a markedly less primitive arena — the Internet.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry's Web site crashed today under a coordinated
assault by thousands of supporters of Palestinians who called it up
simultaneously. In Beirut last week, the Shiite Muslim militant group
Hezbollah, or Party of God, said that its Web site had gone down under a
similar attack by Israeli hackers. Hezbollah said its webmaster was
designing counter-measures.

A foreign Ministry spokesman, Uri Noy, said the attack was traced to what
he called a "a pro-Palestinian and pro-Shiite Muslim Web site" Web site in
the United States that urged users to flood the Israeli site.

Last night, Mr. Barak quietly dispatched one of his top security aides to
Gaza to meet with Mohammed Dahlan, the Palestinian chief of Preventive
Security there.

Mr. Dahlan is a key figure in the effort, being overseen by George Tenet,
director of the Central Intelligence Agency, to build cooperation between
Palestinian and Israeli security officials. At the Camp David summit
meeting in July, Mr. Dahlan was said to have been one of the Palestinian
negotiators most amenable to compromise and to have established a rapport
with his Israeli counterpart Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami.

Negotiations through the day produced a meeting between ranking Israeli and
Palestinian military commanders this evening. The head of the Southern
Command, Maj. Gen. Yom-Tov Samia sat down in Gaza with Palestinian Maj.
Gen. Abdel-Razek al-Majayden for talks the Israeli army said were aimed at
"lowering significantly the level of friction and violence in the field."

Efforts were under way to set up a similar meeting with the head of the
Central Command, which operates on the West Bank, and his Palestinian

The army's chief of operations, Maj. Gen. Giora Eilaud said "there is a
U.S. effort to calm the situation and this has brought about the
willingness by the Palestinians to attend a meeting with us."

But General Eilaud and other Israeli commanders are worried that the
conflict with the Palestinians could shift from street rioting to a
nagging, low-level guerrilla war with shooting incidents like the ones
occurring almost nightly, particularly in Hebron. There have been 600 such
incidents, General Eilaud told reporters at a briefing today, most of them
involving small groups of Palestinians sneaking up on Israeli positions at
night and opening fire.

"The number of these incidents had been from 25 to 30 a day," he said,
adding that "the number is diminishing. In the past 24 hours there have
been only a few shooting incidents. On the other hand, some of these
incidents were more severe."

Today in the southern part of the Gaza Strip, for example, a roadside bomb
went off near an Israeli army convoy, and the army, Palestinian gunmen then
opened fire. There were no injuries.

There was no gunfire last night between the Palestinian town of Beit Jala
and the neighboring settlement of Gilo. Those clashes deeply upset Israelis
who regard Gilo, built on land seized from Arabs in the 1967 war, as a
neighborhood of Jerusalem. There was some shooting reported, however, from
the West Bank town of El-Bireh toward a nearby settlement. An Israel tank
fired three cannon rounds, destroying a building the army said the gunmen
were using.

"Maybe there is some king of calming," General Eilaud said with what did
not appear to be a great deal of optimism. "Based on our experience of the
past months, it doesn't necessarily bring the result we would like. We have
to wait a day or two.

"If it's a change, maybe we'll move some of our forces back. We might make
some other moves," he added, cautioning:

"The situation is very sensitive. The threat of a terrorist attack can
change the situation. If there is no good change, the next change could be
a bad change."

The American Consulate here issued a stern warning today, urging citizens
to "defer all travel to Israel, the West Bank and Gaza."

Saying the government had "indications that there is a heightened threat of
terrorist incidents," the warning advised American citizens here to avoid
buses, shopping malls and crowded areas.

It added that American government employees had been prohibited from
traveling in the West Bank and Gaza and urged to avoid East Jerusalem,
including the Old City.

Louis Proyect
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