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Tuesday, 17 December, 2002, 09:29 GMT
Mid-East: Divided by conflict
Woman sits in the rubble of her home in Jenin
The devastation at Jenin

Live in Israel and you live by a calendar with its own distorted shape.

Here time is not split into working week and weekend, but into days of higher and lower risk. Saturday night isn't downtime. It's high alert.

Aftermath of suicide attack in Haifa in March
The suicide attackers kept on coming despite the security measures
When darkness falls, young people throng cafes, bars, and shopping malls at the end of the Jewish Sabbath. Once crowds are on the streets there's a high risk.

Sunday morning is another dangerous moment - when buses are full of Israelis beginning their working week.

These are peak times for suicide bombings.

Our calendar is divided into days and hours when attackers are more or less likely to strike.

'City of the dead'

But while there are patterns and probabilities, there are no guarantees. So like everyone in Israel, I pause each time I hear a siren.

Israeli tank in the village of Beit Sahour near Bethlehem
Palestinians lead lives snatched between curfews
Two ambulances chasing through the streets can be a traffic accident. Three sirens is almost always a guarantee that there has just been an attack.

Jerusalem is a city of the dead - blown up at bus stops, in restaurants, while shopping in the market.

The coffee shop a street away from my home has a shiny gold plaque outside the door, bearing the names of the 11 young people killed by a suicide bomber on a Saturday night in March.

After waves of suicide attacks Israel reoccupied virtually the entire West Bank - first in March and then again in June.

Imprisoned and trapped

I've spent many days in the past year watching Israeli armour rolling in and out of all the major Palestinian towns and cities on the West Bank.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat
Despite the best efforts of Israeli and US officials, Arafat remained centre stage
Palestinian areas are now choked by Israeli troops.

Palestinians try to live their lives in stolen hours between curfews, imprisoned by closed military zones, trapped by checkpoints.

Imagine you are a Palestinian and your wife is in labour. Will you be able to get her safely through the checkpoints and on to the hospital? Maybe. Maybe not.

Your child needs urgent medical treatment. Can you get him to the doctor? Maybe you'll get there. Maybe you won't.

Israel's right-wing government has staked all on a military solution. But the more it tries to crush the militants, the more resistance it generates.

Suicide bombers continue to emerge from among the rubble, ready to kill, in the name of the Palestinian dead.

Arafat clings on

This was the year Washington tried to write off the Palestinian leader. President George Bush announced to the world that Yasser Arafat was compromised by terror.

Another tragedy is always coming here, to displace the last one - new victims taking the attention of the world from those who suffered last week or last month

But the American President has discovered, like many before him, that Mr Arafat can't be written out of the picture so easily.

He clings to power, in the ruins of his headquarters in Ramallah.

Over the past 12 months, we've made many furtive runs into his battered compound, sneaking through back gardens, to dodge the Israeli tanks that have been in almost permanent residence.

The White House is promising a Palestinian state in stages, but after decades of Israeli occupation the people of the West Bank and Gaza have little faith in that.

Tragedy follows tragedy

Both sides are facing the next year knowing that worse may be to come.

Palestinian militant from the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade at a funeral in Gaza
Palestinian militants gained ever greater popularity
Palestinians fear what Israel may do when the world is looking the other way.

They worry they will lose more territory and more people in an Israeli assault, if and when America declares war on Iraq.

Israelis fear being targets not just at home, but also for Islamic extremists abroad.

Another tragedy is always coming here, to displace the last one - new victims taking the attention of the world from those who suffered last week or last month.

But there are two fathers whose anguish cannot be forgotten - an Israeli and a Palestinian who have both buried two sons this year.

Avi Ohion lost four-year-old Noam, five-year-old Matan and his wife when a Palestinian gunman attacked their home on a kibbutz in Northern Israel.

A hand painted mural with a recent photograph of slain children Matan (L) and Noam (R)
A photograph of slain children - Matan (L) and Noam
They were gunned down in their beds, as their mother read them a bedtime story. She died trying to shield them with her own body.

"Three entire worlds have disappeared," he says. "They loved life so much."

Youssef al-Ghazawi lost six-year-old Ahmed and 13-year-old Jamil. They were killed by Israeli tank fire in the West Bank town of Jenin.

Amateur video captured their last moments as they made a desperate dash for home. A tank, with a clear view, opened fire down the street as they ran.

"They had asked me for some money to buy sweets," Youssef says.

"We all thought the curfew had been lifted and that nothing would happen to them." Ahmed was buried with the bar of chocolate in his hands.

Over the past 12 months, the Israeli leader Ariel Sharon has talked of need for painful concessions, but has yet to make any.

With diplomacy effectively frozen, the body count keeps rising so fast and so relentlessly, that there are days when its hard to keep track.

A recent cartoon in the left-wing Israeli daily Ha'aretz showed a quiz master asking his contestants: "Who can tell me how many people have been killed today?"

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