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By Amre Moussa

Amre Moussa, Egypt's former foreign minister, is secretary general of the Arab League.

-- Smoke is still rising from Palestinian camps, villages and cities that have been subjected to an aggressive military assault launched by the Israeli occupation army for three weeks. Palestinian women, children and men have seen horror over and over again as Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has sent his F-16s, Apaches and tanks to bombard their cities, demolish their houses and wreck their lives.

Churches have been bombarded and violated, and so have mosques. Relief workers have been attacked. Journalists have been denied access to report the atrocities taking place night and day. They have been shot, wounded, and some were even killed.

The more than 50-year-old Arab-Israeli conflict is still going on, and hopes for a peaceful settlement seem more elusive than ever before. Civilians on both sides are losing their lives in an unending battle between the Israeli occupation force and the Palestinian resistance.

Arab states have explicitly declared opposition to the killing of all innocent and unarmed civilians. Besieged Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has condemned the killing of Palestinian and Israeli innocent civilians alike. We have sadly noticed that while the loss of civilian lives on the Israeli side is always condemned, the killing of hundreds of Palestinian civilians at the hands of the Israeli army are not. They should be equally condemned.

And you've probably heard someone say that Israel is not committing murder or violating human rights in the occupation but is only defending itself by eradicating the so-called ''Palestinian terrorist infrastructure.''

This is only one side of the story. The other side is that Israel is the only remaining occupying power in the 21st century. The Israelis are occupying land that is not theirs, and they are ruling people against their expressed will.

Resistance of military occupation, as history has taught us, is simply inevitable. Stories of the European countries that stood up against occupation during World War II are not that far away in history. At the time nobody called those freedom fighters terrorists.

By international law, resistance of military occupation is legitimate. It should never be confused with international terrorism that has gruesomely manifested itself in the attacks against the United States on Sept. 11.

Meanwhile, the unlawful Israeli invasion of Palestinian cities, villages and refugee camps has brought about the destruction of hope for a peaceful settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict and, worst of all, of hope for a better future that the people of this region deserve.

Violations of human rights committed during the invasion should never be accepted or left without due response by the international community.

Recently, in an important statement before the U.N. Human Rights Commission, Secretary-General Kofi Annan emphasized that there could be no trade-off between combating ''terrorism'' and violations of human rights. Annan also asserted that imposing the rule of law can never be done outside the boundaries of law. I couldn't agree more.

However, in its invasion, the Israeli army committed serious violations of international humanitarian law and outright breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention Related to the Protection of Civilians Under Occupation. Meanwhile, the Israeli government has been shrugging off every single call by the United Nations and even the United States to end its invasion and allow for the resumption of a serious political process that could take the region away from the abyss of an all-out confrontation.

Since 1996, Arabs, including Palestinians, have been affirming that a just, fair and comprehensive peace is their strategic choice. Only last month in Beirut, the Arab League, at the summit level adopted an Arab Peace Initiative that offers Israel full peace and normal relations in return for its overdue withdrawal from the Arab territories it occupied in 1967. The reply came less than 24 hours later in the form of an aggressive Israeli reoccupation of Palestinian cities, villages and refugee camps that left hundreds of Palestinians dead, thousands unsheltered and millions more angry and frustrated.

Is there an end in sight to all this misery? Can reason prevail? Let us keep faith. Let us hope that U.S. Secretary of State Powell can use the US political weight to convince the Israeli government that enough is enough.

This is not an easy task. Sharon has displayed a clear pattern of defying even the United States.

We in the Arab world have been hoping that Powell's visit to the region would bring about a difference on the ground. This remains to be seen. The United States is the main co-sponsor and, as we still hope, an honest broker of the Middle East peace process. It is in this capacity, and as the superpower of today's world, that the United States must spare no effort to end this horrifying carnage.

The United States has to talk Israel into ending its invasion ''without delay,'' as Bush specified. I must admit that we in the Arab world have been puzzled by statements of some senior American officials that could be interpreted by the Israeli government as implicit license to continue with its invasion despite the opposition of the international community.

The Arab League Peace Initiative is still on the table. Arab countries have been demonstrating an indisputable commitment to peace. In response, the Israeli government has been waging war. So, now is the time for the United States to show leadership that could either put this region on the road to peace or let it fall in the abyss of all-out chaos.

(c) 2002, Global Viewpoint. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate International, a division of Tribune Media Services
For immediate release (Distributed 4/17/02)