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Israel's ambivalence over Kosovo

Relief efforts are under way, but officials have been slow to supportairstrikes.

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For Israelis, the pictures of ethnic Albanian refugees conjure painful memories of Jewish suffering in the Holocaust. But in a country where long-term recall is a national trait, at least some see the distinction between victims and victimizers in the Kosovo crisis as less than black and white.

In response to the conflict in Kosovo, Israel has been torn between sympathy for people subjected to yet another dark chapter of 20th-century European history, and a sense of loyalty to the Serbs who - unlike others in the Balkans - are remembered as resisters to the Nazi war machine during World War II.

Israel has launched a significant relief effort to help Kosovars seeking refuge in Macedonia and Albania. Aid funds are springing up around the country, and on Tuesday Israel sent two planeloads of supplies, plus a third with equipment and personnel for a 100-bed field hospital.

But pronouncements on the official level haven't been as forthcoming. When NATO airstrikes against Serbian military targets began last month, Israel said it would not formally back the bombing, nor would it explicitly condemn the regime of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. But after several rounds of scathing censure in the press and from the left-wing opposition, Israeli leaders were prodded to speak out and denounce reported massacres of Kosovars by Serbian troops.

And after coming under attack for espousing a sort of quiet neutrality, Foreign Minister Ariel Sharon clarified his position in a statement Friday that critics dismissed as embarrassingly wishy-washy: "As steadfast friends of the United States, we expect that the United States and the NATO forces will do everything possible in order to end the suffering of the innocent, and to bring about negotiations between the parties," said Mr. Sharon.

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