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Israeli DM wants Arafat expelled soon
( 2003-09-03 09:30) (Agencies)

Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said Tuesday he favored expelling Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, possibly by the end of the year, because he was obstructing U.S.-led peace moves.

Former army chief Mofaz has called several times in the past for Arafat to be deported from the Palestinian territories, but Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has overruled him, fearing an international backlash.

"I think Israel made a historic mistake by not expelling him (Arafat) about two years ago...As for the future, I believe that we will need to address this matter in a relatively short space of time, very possibly even this year," Mofaz told Army Radio.

"Arafat never wanted to reach an agreement with us and all he wants is to continue the conflict and bleed the citizens of Israel. I believe that he has to disappear from the stage of history," he said.

Israeli forces have largely confined Arafat to his half-demolished compound in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah for the past 18 months after the government accused him of stoking violence.

Arafat, 74, denies the charge and has said he backs the "road map" peace plan. But he has refused to cede control of Palestinian security services to reform-minded Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas to subdue militant groups as mandated by the plan.

The road map charts reciprocal steps, including an end to militant violence, Israeli pullouts from occupied territory and a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza by 2005.

Palestinian officials say Israel has done more to undermine the plan than the Arafat-Abbas power struggle by escalating air strikes to kill militant leaders after they called off a truce.

Six missile attacks since a Palestinian suicide bombing on August 19 have killed 11 militants and five bystanders, including a girl of 11 and a man who medics said died Tuesday of wounds sustained in a strike in the Gaza Strip.

Palestinian leaders called Mofaz's remarks inflammatory.

"Israeli officials should respect the democratic choice of the Palestinian people," Palestinian cabinet minister Ghassan al-Khatibhe said, referring to Arafat's election in 1996 and longtime leadership, "and sit instead at the negotiating table."

In the West Bank near Jenin, Israeli soldiers shot dead a Palestinian man who emerged from a car stopped at a checkpoint and pointed a gun at them, an army spokesman said.

Palestinian witnesses said soldiers shot the man after ordering him to take off his shirt -- apparently to see whether he might be wearing a suicide bomber's explosive belt.

Palestinian officials identified him as a 21-year-old student leader of the militant Islamic Jihad group.

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