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US rejects Israeli threats against Arafat
( 2003-09-15 08:43) (Agencies)

Israel's vice premier said on Sunday killing Palestinian President Yasser Arafat was an option in its threat to "remove" him and the United States rejected the idea, warning it would trigger "rage throughout the Arab world."

Palestinian President Yasser Arafat salutes during a rally at his headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah Sept. 14, 2003. Israel's vice premier said killing Arafat was an option in its threat to 'remove' him as an obstacle to peace.    [Reuters]
Also alarmed at Israel's threat was the chief Palestinian peace negotiator, Saeb Erekat, who expressed the fear that if Israel kills Arafat, Palestinian militias could unleash their wrath against moderate leaders such as himself.

In a fresh outbreak of violence, Israeli soldiers shot and killed an 11-year-old Palestinian boy on Sunday evening after he entered the area of an airport north of Jerusalem being used as an army base, a doctor said.

The army apologized for the shooting.

Ehud Olmert, a mainstream member of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's cabinet, told Israel Radio on Sunday regarding Arafat that "killing (him) is definitely one of the options."

"We are trying to eliminate all the heads of terror, and Arafat is one of the heads of terror," said Olmert, who elaborated on a decision taken on Thursday by Israel's security cabinet to "remove" Arafat, calling him an obstacle to peace.

Israel's threat followed a recent surge in Israeli-Palestinian violence, including back-to-back suicide bombings in Israel that killed 15 people on Tuesday.

Students gather around a burning tire during a demonstration supporting Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in the Rafah Refugee Camp, southern Gaza Strip, Sept. 14, 2003.   [AP]
Israel, backed by the United States, blames the 74-year-old Arafat, a former guerrilla leader, for fomenting much of the violence of a nearly three-year Palestinian uprising for statehood in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Arafat denies the charge for which the Israeli military has kept him largely confined to his battered headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah for 21 months.

The cabinet did not say when or how its threat against Arafat would be carried out, but the decision has brought an international outcry, and an outpouring of support for Arafat.

Tens of thousands of Palestinians demonstrated on his behalf throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip on Saturday, and on Sunday the protests spread through the Muslim world to nations as far away as Indonesia.


Secretary of State Colin Powell rejected Olmert's remarks.

He said that if Arafat was either exiled or killed, "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."

"The United States does not support either the elimination of him or the exile of Mr Arafat...the Israeli government knows that," Powell said.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, on an official visit to France, said in an interview with France 3 television that it would be a mistake for Israel to attack Arafat.

"To attack Arafat...is also to attack a spiritual father. He should be negotiated with in a wise manner.

"But I also say to the Palestinians: do not erect obstacles to give the Israelis the pretext to attack you," Mubarak said.

Erekat told Army Radio that if Israel killed Arafat, Palestinian militias would take over cities in the West Bank and Gaza Strip administered by the Palestinian Authority.

"Probably the first thing they will do is come to my house and shoot me...and kill all Palestinian moderates," Erekat said.

In another move to prevent attacks, Israel revised the planned course of a West Bank security barrier designed to keep out suicide bombers, so it would leave out the major Jewish settlement of Ariel, defense officials said Sunday.

The decision followed U.S. concerns that by encompassing Jewish settlements inside the West Bank, the fence would fuel Palestinian objections to the barrier, which they see as a land grab.

In violence at an airport north of Jerusalem, soldiers shot in the chest and killed Ahmed Abu Latifi, 11, of Kalandiya refugee camp, after he mistakenly entered an area off limits as an army base, doctors at Ramallah Hospital said.

Israeli military sources said soldiers opened fire at a group of people who broke through a security fence outside the base that borders on Kalandiya refugee camp, between Jerusalem and the West Bank city of Ramallah, striking one of them.

"The Israeli army expresses regret about the boy's death and has opened an investigation into the incident," a military official said.

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