Govt. under attack for inviting Sharon

NEW DELHI SEPT. 6. The Bharatiya Janata Party-led Government came under strong attack for inviting the Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, to visit the country from September 8-11, at a public meeting organised by the Indo-Arab Islamic Association here today.

A resolution passed at the meeting noted that Mahatma Gandhi had supported the cause of the Palestinians much before India's independence saying, "as India belongs to Indians, France belongs to French and Palestine belongs to Palestinians".

"The meeting deplores the recent massacre in Jenin of a large number of innocent Palestinians by Ariel Sharon's regime. We regret to note that bombing, launching rockets on Palestinian towns and bulldozing their houses have become the order of the day in Sharon's regime."

The resolution said these were "unpardonable crimes" of the Sharon Government. "This meeting demands that Sharon should be tried as a war criminal..."

"It is unfortunate that a person like Ariel Sharon is being welcomed on the holy land of Buddha and Gandhi. It is unfortunate that the NDA (National Democratic Alliance) Government has invited Israel's Prime Minister..."

Speaking at the meeting, the CPI general secretary, A.B. Bardhan, said there was nothing surprising about Mr. Sharon's visit as it fitted in well with the BJP's understanding, ideology and politics.

Referring to a statement by the then External Affairs Minister, Jaswant Singh, that India identifying with the Palestinian cause was due to Muslim vote bank politics in the country, Mr. Bardhan said there could be nothing "more despicable".

Stating that it was the United States which was behind Israel, the CPI leader stressed that at least three United Nations resolutions on Palestine had been "thrown into the dustbin" on account of this alliance.

Presiding over the meeting, K.M. Khan, Congress member of the Rajya Sabha, said it was a shame that the BJP Government had chosen to invite Mr. Sharon. "His identity is that of a terrorist," Mr. Khan said. "The people of India don't want this visit to take place. He (Mr. Sharon) is responsible for the deaths of civilians every day."

"It is Israel that is responsible for terrorism. How can we expect Israel to help India in the battle against terrorism," Mr. Khan asked.

According to Zafarul Islam Khan, editor of The Milli Gazette, as many as 55 lakh Palestinians were refugees on account of Israeli policies. Israel, he said, wanted the Palestinians to run a "municipality", not a full-fledged, sovereign government.

Romesh Bhandari, former Foreign Secretary, said that earlier India's voice on the Palestinian issue was always heard loud and clear. "Now we are quiet. We have not said a single thing about the detention of the Palestinian President, Yasser Arafat."

The All-India Muslim Personal Law Board, the Jamiat-Ulema-e-Hind, the All-India Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawart, the All-India Milli Council, the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind and the Jamiat Ahle Hadith have also protested against Mr. Sharon's visit.

"We see this visit as an official seal on the reversal of India's traditional support for the inalienable national rights of the Palestinian people, indeed as a slap in the face of Gandhi and Nehru," these groups said in a joint statement.

"We protest against Sharon's visit because it cannot be rationalised, except in terms of the envisaged strategic alliance among the U.S. India and Israel. This official rationale... cooperation against terrorism, does not wash," the statement said.

"The Government forgets that both the U.S. and Israel have generated terrorism by their action in the Arab world and particularly in Palestine, while India is a victim of terrorism. There can be no meeting point between India, a secular democracy, and Israel, a racist theocracy," it added.

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