Excerpted from The Jerusalem Post of April 8, 1999


By Liat Collins and Danna Harman

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu Wednesday night announced he has decided Israel will take in 100 refugees from Kosovo. The refugees will be able to stay in Israel for six months, after which they can decide for themselves whether to remain here or not. He described this as "a first group." Speaking to reporters at the Mimouna celebration he attended in Beit Shemesh, Netanyahu said: "This is simply our moral obligation as Jews. Half a century ago, nobody held out a helping hand and we of course must do this and are doing this today."

He again distanced himself from the remarks of Foreign Minister Ariel Sharon, who has warned against creating an independent state in Kosovo, saying it could turn into an international base for Islamic terror activities. Netanyahu said Sharon was talking about long-term issues which are not relevant and do not reflect current Israeli policy. He noted that Sharon was among the first people to initiate the policy "of helping the refugees and supporting NATO's efforts to end the tragedy."

Netanyahu said that Sharon's statements on Kosovo - which were made Monday in New York before the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations - were "a reflection of his own opinions and do not represent the government stand." The State of Israel, continued Netanyahu, "is not involved in the future workings of Kosovo and gives its full support to the activities of NATO."

Sharon, meanwhile, taken to task for his comments, clarified his position in a statement, saying that "there are two problems at hand - one is the immediate human crisis taking place in Kosovo, which must be stopped. The second is of a long-term nature." Sharon said Israel will do all it can to help ease the plight of the refugees and that he expects the US and NATO will "bring an end to the human tragedy, and bring the sides to the negotiating table as soon as possible."

However, in the long term, continued Sharon, while he is for "every people's right of self expression and the freedom to decide on their way of life," he has some concerns. "If a big bloc of Islamic states develops in this region, it could serve as a base for extreme Islamic terror - a seed of that is already apparent on the ground - [and] this could lead to instability in Europe and elsewhere," he said in a Channel 2 interview on Tuesday night. Sharon insisted his comments do not constitute an interference in the internal working of another country.

"What we are talking about here is a situation in which global instability could be created - and every instability has an effect on Israel and its people," he said. "I see it as my responsibility not only to initiate humanitarian aid to the Kosovo refugees, as I have done, but also to warn of the possible future dangers there."

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