Rajapaksa settles Palestine row

Ambassador Perera’s controversial remarks
By Leon Berenger

President Mahinda Rajapaksa has assured Palestine of Sri Lanka’s continued commitment to the Palestinian cause, following controversial remarks made by Sri Lanka’s new ambassador to Israel
The assurance came in the wake of remarks attributed to Ambassador Donald Perera – former Air Force Commander and Chief of Defence Staff -- in an interview with Yediot Ahronoth, a leading Israeli newspaper. He was quoted as saying “Sri Lanka is a staunch supporter of Israel’s war against Palestinian terror.”

Palestinian Ambassador Anwar Agha, the Sunday Times learns, spoke with President Rajapaksa to clarify the remarks.

This came after Ambassador Perera wrote to the Editor of the newspaper to complain that he was “misquoted”. Thereafter, the newspaper corrected the report to quote Ambassador Perera as saying “Sri Lanka is a staunch supporter of Israel’s fight against terror”.

Dan Bentsur, Senior Editor of Yediot Ahronoth told the Sunday Times in an e-mail message his newspaper had apologized to the ambassador over the use of the word “Palestine”. However, he said all other remarks the ambassador made in the article were accurate.

In this controversial interview, Ambassador Perera had equated the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to the Palestinian group Hamas. He reportedly said there were similarities between the two groups and added, “No one wants bloodshed. The other side (meaning Hamas) should be offered direct negotiations, without preconditions, to determine its level of seriousness”.

“Once you have the public’s support, you should fight relentlessly until all the terror hubs are destroyed. There is no going back,” Ambassador Perera reportedly said.

“In case the other side shows it is not interested in a compromise, Israel must move on to the military phase with full force,” he reportedly added. Muslim organizations in Sri Lanka reacted angrily to the remarks, saying the Sri Lankan envoy was urging Israel to go to war with Palestinians if their peace efforts fail.

External Affairs Ministry Secretary Romesh Jayasinghe told the Sunday Times: “The Ambassador has been wrongly quoted. It had happened during translation from Hebrew to English. The newspaper has apologized for the mistake and therefore the matter ends there.”

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