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Powell tells Israel: Don't kill Arafat
( 2003-09-15 08:40) (Agencies)

Secretary of State Colin Powell on Sunday rejected a senior Israeli official's suggestion of killing Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and said it would cause the Middle East to erupt in rage.

Although Powell's comments signaled disapproval of potential Israeli action to break Arafat's hold over the Palestinian Authority, they fall short of the personal demand by President Bush needed to block any Israeli move against Arafat, analysts said.

"The United States does not support either the elimination of him or the exile of Mr. Arafat ... the Israelis know our position quite well," said Powell.

"The consequences would not be good ones. I think you can anticipate that there would be rage throughout the Arab world, the Muslim world and in many other parts of the world," he said on "Fox News Sunday," speaking from Baghdad.

Israel's vice premier, Ehud Olmert, said killing Arafat was an option after a decision in principle by Israel's security Cabinet on Thursday to remove the Palestinian president.

Powell said on CNN's "Late Edition" he had learned from the Israeli government that it had no current plans to remove Arafat. But he called Olmert's statement unhelpful to Bush's "road map" for Middle East peace.

U.S. Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations committee, also criticized the Israeli position. "It just elevates his (Arafat's) standing to talk like that," Biden said on "Late Edition."

Washington, which considers Arafat an obstacle to peace, wants him to cede control over Palestinian security forces and the Palestinians to crush militant groups carrying out suicide bombing attacks on Israel.

A crackdown is an early step in the "road map" for an eventual Palestinian state. But the plan has been tattered by the suicide bombings, Israeli attacks on leaders of the Palestinian militant Hamas movement, and the resignation of moderate Palestinian Prime Minster Mahmoud Abbas, who accused Arafat and Israel of undermining him.

"The question is how Mr. Arafat departs from the scene, and if he departs from the scene as a result of Israeli action I do not think that would help the road map process," Powell said.

The U.S. warnings are insufficient to keep Israel from acting against Arafat, especially in case of a new Palestinian attack, analysts said.

"If the administration really is serious about telling (Israeli Prime Minister Ariel) Sharon do not do this, the president has to be the person that says it. He has to say it directly and probably privately to Sharon," said analyst Edward Walker, president of the Middle East Institute.

He said Washington appeared trying to leave room for Israel to keep pressure on Arafat, by sending what he called only "yellow signals" of caution to Israel.

Analyst Stephen Cohen of the Israeli Policy forum said the Bush administration lacks a coherent policy. "The United States is caught in a contradiction, because it never supported Mahmoud Abbas enough to sustain his challenge to Arafat, but now it's telling Israel not to push Arafat out."

He said Washington must back Palestinian Prime Minister-designate Ahmed Qurie. Cohen said that in meetings with Qurie last week the Palestinian was "willing to go far" for a peace deal but needed political support.

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