Tue, Jul 15, 2003 - Page 7 News List

Israel wants Arafat boycott

AP , JERUSALEM

Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, center, presents a gift to Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, right, on Sunday in the West Bank town of Ramallah.

PHOTO: AFP

The Palestinian prime minister demanded that Israel allow Yasser Arafat to move freely, but Israel's premier, urging Europe to cut off contacts with the embattled Palestinian leader, charged that Arafat is trying to sabotage peace moves.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon arrived in London on Sunday, the first stop on a trip to Europe. In talks with British Prime Minister Tony Blair yesterday, Sharon was expected to call on Britain to join an Israeli-US boycott of Arafat.

"Arafat should be removed from any position of influence," Sharon told the US Fox News Network, blaming Arafat for nearly three years of Mideast violence.

Arafat reluctantly appointed Abbas as premier in April, bending to intense international pressure to share power. Much of the pressure came from the US. The Bush administration planned to invite Abbas to Washington to bolster his prestige, but during his first week in office, Abbas made it clear he would not travel unless Arafat had freedom of movement.

Arafat has been confined to his office building in the West Bank town of Ramallah for the past year and a half, watching as Israeli forces knocked down almost all the buildings in the city block-sized compound. Israel's policy now is that Arafat is free to leave, but Israel will not guarantee that he would be allowed to return.

Sharon insisted that Arafat must be sidelined. "The problem that we have is with some of the European countries that still support and back him," Sharon told Fox News Sunday, "and by that, they are postponing the possibility to reach peace here."

At a Sunday meeting in Ramallah, Abbas and visiting Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov appealed to Israel to release Yasser Arafat from his virtual house arrest.

Ivanov said it was important to maintain relations with Arafat, and "these restrictions imposed on his movement are unacceptable." European nations reject the Israeli-US boycott of Arafat.

Meanwhile, other issues endangered a unilateral truce called by the main Palestinian groups on June 29, temporarily ending attacks against Israelis. Islamic groups threatened to scrap the ceasefire if Abbas' forces continue confiscating weapons and Israeli officials said an Israeli taxi driver who disappeared Friday was apparently kidnapped by Palestinian militants, in violation of the truce and the peace plan.

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