- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 9, 2001

JERUSALEM — Israel's last warm regional ally, Turkey, warned Prime Minister Ariel Sharon yesterday that relations will become difficult if he doesn't do more to find a solution to continuing violence with the Palestinians.

The remark follows other strong signs this week of Israel's increasing isolation, including the slaying of an Israeli businessman in Jordan and the labeling of the Israeli government as "assassins" by Egypt.

Separately, United Press International reported yesterday evening that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat had taken the first steps toward forming a government of "national unity," embracing a number of feuding militant factions, to confront Israel.

The Palestinian Legislative Council announced the formation of a committee to draw up the terms of a deal under which groups opposed to the Oslo peace accord which have until now boycotted Mr. Arafat's Palestinian Authority government — would join his cabinet.

In addition to the radical Hamas and Islamic Jihad movements, the unity government could include representatives of the Marxist, Syrian-backed Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, UPI reported.

Arab anger stems from Israel's policy of pre-emptive strikes to kill Palestinians believed to be planning suicide attacks on Israeli targets.

In the latest suicide attack yesterday, a Palestinian blew himself up at an army checkpoint, injuring three Israeli soldiers. Israeli helicopter gunships launched two missile strikes in retaliation.

Mr. Sharon traveled yesterday to Turkey, the only country in the region that is expanding its political, economic and military ties with Israel in spite of the "intifada" or uprising.

"We will be happy to see you in our country frequently," Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit was quoted by the Associated Press as telling his guest.

But even in Ankara, Mr. Sharon faced heckling from 100 or so members of a leftist party who chanted: "The Butcher of Palestine go home."

Mr. Sharon must do more to end the intifada, Mr. Ecevit told him, adding that if hopes for peace vanish, Turkish-Israeli relations will be thrown into difficulty.

That was much gentler than the message coming from Egypt and Jordan, long seen in Jerusalem as the cornerstones of a new Middle East in which Israel would be accepted by the Arab world as a whole.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak played an important mediating role in the Israel-Palestinian dispute as head of the most important Arab country, the first to make peace with Israel.

His firm position that war must be avoided at all costs is one of the major reasons that the intifada has not deteriorated into a regional conflict. However, the popular mood in his country is strongly anti-Israel, with the press regularly making virulent attacks.

Since the election of Mr. Sharon in February, Mr. Mubarak has displayed less and less patience. Two weeks ago he said Mr. Sharon was a person who seeks war, not peace.

The declaration this week by his foreign minister, Ahmed Maher, that the Israeli government has become a "gang of assassins" because of its targeted killings reflected Mr. Mubarak's feelings even more bluntly.

Jordan's King Abdullah has been placed in a similarly awkward predicament by the intifada. More than half the population of his country is of Palestinian origin and he has reason to fear that unrest among the Palestinians in the West Bank could ignite a conflagration in Jordan as well.

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