- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 11, 2001

RAFAH, Gaza Strip Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are seething at Israel over deadly helicopter strikes, but many are no less angry at the United States, which is widely viewed here as an accomplice to the Israeli violence.

In a bombed-out military barracks in this gritty town, Palestinian men in dusty uniforms focus on a tiny detail on one missile fragment that says: "Made in the USA."

Early today, a fierce firefight erupted between Israeli forces and Palestinians near a bloc of Jewish settlements in Gaza, wounding at least 25 Palestinians, casting further doubt on U.S. efforts to convene a meeting of security commanders.

Palestinians said Israeli helicopters attacked a Palestinian police post next to the Khan Yunis refugee camp and tanks fired shells at the camp.

The Israeli military acknowledged a "very heavy" exchange of fire, but denied that helicopters were used.

Yesterday, Israeli rocketing of security installations killed a Palestinian police doctor and wounded at least 17 others a response to Palestinian mortar fire.

The escalating exchanges disrupted plans for a meeting of security chiefs to discuss ways of ending the violence, now in its seventh month.

The strikes have targeted security groups that Israel says are involved in attacks on its people. But they have unleashed a wave of hatred toward the United States in the West Bank and Gaza, where a cross section of Palestinians feel American policy in the region is biased and unfair.

The missiles are only one reason. Others include Washington's veto of a U.N. resolution last month to send peacekeepers to the region, and a sharp rebuke to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat delivered by President Bush.

"I just don't understand how the United States supports the peace process but also gives Israel missiles," Lt. Mazen Zahar, the commander of a Palestinian security squad stationed at the barracks in Rafah, said last week. "It's the crime that the Palestinian people cannot ignore."

It was 2 and 1/2 years ago that U.S.-Palestinian relations peaked with a visit to Gaza by President Clinton, who told Palestinians they deserved to "determine their own destiny on their own land."

Palestinians interpreted the remark as a political about-face by a country that for decades had favored Israel over the Arabs. The United States provides billions of dollars in military and civilian aid to the Jewish state and routinely approves sales to Israel of the most sophisticated American weapons.

Following yesterday's missile strikes, Brig. Gen. Abdel Razek Majaida, a top Palestinian commander in Gaza, termed the rocketing a "declaration of war," and the Palestinian Center for Human Rights called for international intervention to "put an end to Israeli violations."

Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, speaking from Turkey, insisted it was "a declaration against terror, not a declaration for war."

Until Israel's peace deal with the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1993, Washington had listed the PLO as a terror group and banned Mr. Arafat, its leader, from entering the United States.

But even as relations bloomed during a seven-year peace process nurtured by Mr. Clinton, Palestinians continually complained of an American bias.

"There certainly was considerable positive interaction between the United States and the Palestinians in the past few years, but it was always on terms defined by Washington," Palestinian political scientist Ibrahim Abu Lughod said.

Under those terms, he said, Israel's security concerns and other positions continually garnered more weight than the Palestinian quest for independence. When peace talks prospered, Palestinians grumbled quietly about the imbalance. When the process collapsed, as it did in September, their grievances burst out into the open.

At an outdoor produce market in teeming Jabalya, one of Gaza's poorest refugee camps, a 77-year-old Palestinian unleashed a bitter diatribe in flawless English over U.S. policies in the region.

"American support for Israel has turned every Palestinian into Osama bin Laden," he said, referring to the Saudi billionaire fugitive whom Washington accuses of orchestrating a string a terror attacks against U.S. targets.

"It will come back to haunt you. Arabs will burn all the U.S. embassies in their countries. They will rise up against the United States," he said, a day after another of Israel's helicopter strikes.

The United States sells TOW missiles to countries all over the world, but Palestinians complain that as a result of U.S. aid to Israel, American tax dollars are paying for bombs Israel drops on the Palestinians.

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