, The attack on civilians in Haifa on Saturday by a lone suicide bomber was an act of infamy. However keen an individual's sense of grievance, however great a people's sense of injustice, there is no justifying such pitiless slaughter. Islamic Jihad, which admitted responsibility, has once again done grave disservice to the Palestinian cause. But Israel's response to the attack is equally unjustified. Its air raid deep inside Syrian territory was a reckless act typical of Israel's leader, Ariel Sharon. It will dissipate international sympathy and further entrench Arab hostility. Mr Sharon has a genius for putting Israel in the wrong.
It is unlikely that the assault on the alleged Islamic Jihad training camp north of Damascus will curb future terrorist attacks; quite the opposite, in fact. The Maxim restaurant atrocity will meanwhile convince ever more Israelis that a peace settlement is impossible. Between the two of them, Hanadi Jaradat, the Haifa bomber, and Mr Sharon, have in effect conspired to guarantee that there will be more victims and more violence, now perhaps increasingly acted out on a regional scale. That this escalatory cycle of attack and counter-attack is bitterly familiar does not make it any more acceptable or sane.

That Mr Sharon is now openly threatening further transnational, anti-terrorist operations against Syria, Lebanon and even Iran is a matter of grave and urgent concern for all responsible nations. Syria's decision to take the matter to the UN security council last night, rather than resort to rash retaliation, provides a small glimmer of common sense in an otherwise anarchic, utterly irrational situation. Israel's action was a clear, contemptuous breach of international law; Haifa was a horrendous affront to all human decency.

It has long been apparent that Israelis and Palestinians are incapable of resolving their problems by themselves. In the light, or rather the shadow, of these latest events, those who stand at one remove from the front line now have a duty to re-examine both their policies and their consciences. It is all very well for Hosni Mubarak loudly to denounce “aggression against a brotherly state”. What is he going to do about it? Launch, 30 years on, another Yom Kippur war? Hardly. The inescapable reality is one of Arab weakness and division in the face of US-backed Israeli power. Egypt's president would be better employed reviving talks with Islamic Jihad and Hamas, to halt their violence. Rather than indulge in anti-Israeli posturing at an emergency Arab League meeting, Arab leaders should tell Yasser Arafat to stop playing politics or else stand down.

It is all very well, likewise, for Britain to urge restraint, for Germany's Gerhard Schr