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Israeli foreign minister: Killing Arafat not policy

Arab league demands Israel back down from threats

Yasser Arafat flashes victory signs for supporters outside his compound in Ramallah, West Bank.
Yasser Arafat flashes victory signs for supporters outside his compound in Ramallah, West Bank.

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JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said Monday that the Israeli government does not advocate killing Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, contradicting comments Vice Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made a day earlier.

Killing Arafat "is not the official policy of the Israeli government," Shalom said. "It was never before, and we don't speak about any killing, we didn't speak about it before, and we don't speak about it today."

Sunday, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz quoted Olmert as saying on Israel Radio, "We are trying to eliminate all the heads of terror, and Arafat is one of the heads of terror.

"In my eyes, from a moral point of view, this is no different from killing others who were involved in ... acts of terror. It's only a practical question. What is the benefit? What will the reaction be? What circumstances will allow this?"

Israel has adopted a policy of targeted killings of members of Palestinian extremist groups to defend against terrorist attacks. After Olmert's statement Sunday, Palestinian minister Saeb Erakat said the Israeli government was behaving "like gangsters."

The Israeli Security Cabinet decided in principle last week to remove Arafat, calling him an obstacle to peace, but provided no specifics about how that would be accomplished.

The government of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon blames Arafat for not using his influence as Palestinian Authority president to stop the terrorist attacks that have killed dozens of Israelis in recent weeks. The attacks on both sides continue despite international pressure on Israeli and Palestinian leaders to end the violence and proceed with the so-called road map to Mideast peace.

Backers of the road map -- the European Union, Russia, the United States and the United Nations -- have been pressuring Israel against such moves against the Palestinian leader.

"The decision [to remove Arafat] that we took two days ago was not for immediate action," Shalom said. "We are taking into account our allies and our friends, and that's the way we are working."

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell cautioned Israel on Sunday against killing or exiling Arafat. In addition, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and the members of the Security Council have urged Israel not to expel Arafat, saying such an action would foster tension and instability.

U.N. envoy: Neither side addresses the other's concerns

On Monday, the U.N. envoy to the Middle East blamed Palestinians' failure to control terrorism and Israel's refusal to vacate Palestinian land for nearly destroying the Middle East peace process.

"Neither side has seriously and actively addressed the core concerns of the other side," Terje Roed-Larsen told the Security Council in a briefing.

He said that, since he last briefed the council August 19, conditions have deteriorated because of more violence, including suicide attacks against Israelis by Palestinian militants, who abandoned their pledges to cease fire.

Roed-Larsen said the road map is in trouble because of "halfhearted implementation" by both sides.

The Security Council also considered an Arab League draft resolution Monday that demanded that Israel back down from its threat to remove Arafat. Last week, the Arab group called the threat a declaration of war on Middle East peace.

U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte said no vote was taken on the proposal because it had not been formally offered.

But he added after the session: "We are not prepared to support the resolution in its present form. It doesn't contain the explicit condemnation of terrorism that we think ought to be in there.

"We think that Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades [are] responsible for the terrorism that has made it impossible for the peace process to move forward and we think if a resolution is to be adopted with our support, it's going to have to contain those kind of condemnations."

Tensions high

The road map plan aims to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and establish an independent Palestinian state by 2005. Roed-Larsen said its implementation never effectively began and bolder steps should have been taken.

Meanwhile, Arafat remained confined to his compound in Ramallah, West Bank, surrounded for a fourth consecutive day by crowds of Palestinian supporters.

Tensions between the Israelis and Palestinians have heightened in recent weeks after a string of Palestinian terror attacks against Israelis and deadly Israeli strikes on Palestinian extremist group members that also have killed and wounded Palestinian bystanders.

Two Hamas terrorist bombings killed 15 Israelis on September 9, followed a day later by an Israeli airstrike that wounded Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar. The attack also killed Zahar's son and a bodyguard, and wounded at least 20 others.

Hamas, a Palestinian Islamic fundamentalist group, is designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department. Its military wing, Izzedine al Qassam, has admitted responsibility for terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians as well as attacks against the Israeli military.

The Palestinian Authority has struggled for months to resolve an internal crisis. Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas quit earlier this month, and Arafat named parliamentary speaker Ahmed Qorei, a longtime Arafat ally, to replace Abbas. Qorei's nomination must be approved by the Palestinian parliament.

During his four months in office, Abbas struggled with Arafat for control, particularly over security forces to rein in militants conducting terror attacks against Israeli civilians.


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