Fri, Aug 15, 2003 - Page 6 News List

Israel suspects Arafat involved in bombings

NO PROGRESS Although both the Israelis and Palestinians agreed to support the US-backed `road map' to peace, suicide attacks continue

AP , JERUSALEM

Israel's defense minister said he suspects that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was involved in a pair of suicide bombings this week and accused him of blocking progress toward peace, though Arafat insists he doesn't support attacks on civilians.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Defense Minster Shaul Mofaz have renewed their criticism of Arafat since Tuesday's bombings that killed two Israelis and wounded 11 others, saying he is trying to undermine Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, who was appointed in April under heavy US and Israeli pressure to find an alternative to Arafat.

"I wouldn't be surprised if Arafat is behind the recent terror attacks," Mofaz said.

"Arafat continues to be an obstacle to this [peace] process. I am convinced that we need to reconsider the question of Arafat and what steps should be taken," he added.

Mofaz has been one of the most outspoken proponents of expelling Arafat, a step frequently debated by Israel's Cabinet but opposed by Israel's security services and in the end vetoed by Sharon. Those opposing expulsion say it would only boost the stature of Arafat, who has been confined to the West Bank town of Ramallah for nearly two years.

Palestinian legislator Saeb Erekat denied Mofaz's accusations, calling them "ridiculous and nonsensical."

"It's part of a series of accusations that aim at shifting the eyes of the world from the fact that the Israeli government is continuing to sabotage the vision of President [George W.] Bush and the road map," Erekat said on Wednesday.

Israelis and Palestinians have traded blame since the bombings, each accusing the other of not meeting their commitments under the US-backed "road map" peace plan.

The bombings, one claimed by the Islamic militant group Hamas and the other by renegades from Arafat's Fatah movement, were the most serious violations yet of a ceasefire declared by Palestinian militant groups on June 29. A delegation from Egypt was expected to meet with Islamic militants in the Gaza Strip this week to persuade them to maintain the truce.

The Palestinian leadership condemned Tuesday's suicide bombings, but Sharon demanded that the Palestinians do more, saying they must arrest and punish the planners of terror attacks, ban militant groups and confiscate their weapons.

The "road map" peace plan, which leads through three stages to a Palestinian state in 2005, requires Palestinians to dismantle violent groups. Israel says the Palestinians must begin immediately to disarm the groups, and that it will freeze any further steps until they do.

In an interview with the French daily Le Figaro, Sharon urged Abbas to block Arafat's continued influence over the security forces.

"He [Abbas] needs to take control of the money and the payment of salaries,'' Sharon told Le Figaro.

Palestinian leaders accuse Israel of engaging in what they say are provocative acts, such as building a 595km security barrier that cuts into the West Bank and carrying out arrest raids.

"Israel is not complying on the ground by building the wall, expanding settlements and attacking cities," Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath said on Wednesday after meeting Lebanon's prime minister, Rafik Hariri, in Beirut.

"Israel is trying not to abide by its commitments and push us to the road of an internal conflict, which is something we will not allow," Shaath said.

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