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Arafat: No elections until Israel pulls out

Arafat speaks to Palestinian lawmakers on Wednesday.
Arafat speaks to Palestinian lawmakers on Wednesday.  

From Rula Amin

RAMALLAH, West Bank (CNN) -- Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat said Friday that Palestinians won't hold any elections until Israel fully withdraws from territories in the region where the 1993 Oslo accords call for full or partial control by Palestinians.

The Palestinian Legislative Council on Thursday had presented Arafat a list of recommended changes that would radically overhaul the way the Palestinian Authority operates, including a call for it to hold presidential and legislative elections within a year.

Arafat said he wanted the elections to be held "as soon as possible," but when asked if the elections could go on while Israeli troops were still in the Palestinian territories, he said: "Definitely not."

The Oslo accords recognize two levels of Palestinian control in areas designated A and B. The Palestinian Authority is to have full security and administrative control in the A-areas, which include most of the major West Bank cities. In the B-areas, the Palestinians have administrative control but Israel has security control.

Israeli forces entered A and B areas in April during Operation Defensive Shield, the military campaign Israel said was intended to destroy a Palestinian terrorist infrastructure. While Israeli forces have pulled back from most of the West Bank towns and cities they entered, they have not fully withdrawn from the areas, but have formed cordons around the cities and refugee camps.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has defended his country's military operations in the West Bank, comparing the incursions with the U.S. response to the September 11 attacks, after a series of Palestinian suicide bombings killed scores of Israeli civilians.

"The Israeli military operation is continuing," Arafat said . "Their aggression is continuing in Jenin, Ramallah, Tulkarem, Qalqalya, Rafah and Hebron."

Israel carries out Jenin operations

On Friday, Israeli forces went back into Jenin and the Jenin refugee camp. Military sources said 20 Palestinians were arrested. (Full Story)

Arafat said the Israelis are planning to send troops into Gaza, and he appealed to the international community to stop them.

"You hear how they are preparing to send their reserves into other eas. I want to ask the whole world, 'Are you going to stand by holding your hands in the face of the Israeli aggression against the Palestinian people and our holy places?'" he said.

Arafat said he was addressing his appeal to the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia, which plan to sponsor an international peace conference on the Middle East.

Mohammed Rashid, Arafat's financial adviser, told reporters in Washington he had held meetings with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State William Burns on a timetable for democratic reforms in the Palestinian Authority. Rashid said both sides were eager to set in motion fundamental changes in the Palestinian security and political operations.

In Ramallah, an aide to Arafat acknowledged that Rashid held talks with the Americans, but he said Rashid was not sent to Washington to negotiate a deal.

Palestinian council recommends government's resignation

The Palestine Legislative Council recommended that Arafat's current government resign and that he appoint a smaller government within 45 days. The legislators also called on him to sign what is called the "basic law," legislation guaranteeing basic rights to all Palestinian citizens.

In addition, the recommendations call for reform of the Palestinian security apparatus and the way the authority handles its finances.

Arafat Wednesday acknowledged that mistakes were made and asked legislators for their recommendations. But he continues to control the Palestinian Authority and has not indicated how much power, if any, he is willing to give up.




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