Israel- Expulsion possible if Arafat continues struggle

Wednesday, September 3, 2003

JERUSALEM -- Yasser Arafat should "disappear" from the Palestinian leadership, and Israel may have to decide by year's end whether to expel him if he continues to get in the way of a U.S.-backed peace plan, Israel's defense minister said Tuesday.

Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz issued the warning as Arafat and his prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, remained locked in a bitter power struggle. Abbas, backed by the United States and Israel, is increasingly unpopular at home and could be ousted -- possibly in a parliament vote next week.

Nearly 200 Palestinian legislators, academics and writers appealed to Arafat and Abbas in newspaper ads Tuesday to resolve their differences, saying the deadlock was hurting Palestinian interests.

"We call on you to stop all actions that may open the door to foreign interference," the ad read.

Leaders of the ruling Fatah movement met Tuesday but failed to find a compromise. Mediators were to keep shuttling between the leaders, who are not speaking to each other. Officials close to Abbas denied reports that he has threatened to resign and leave the Palestinian areas.

Palestinian security chief Mohammed Dahlan, who is close to Abbas, suggested the tensions defied a permanent solution. He told the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera that there might be a temporary compromise, "until the next crisis, in a week, a month, three months, who knows?"

Also Tuesday, a Palestinian was killed by army fire at a West Bank checkpoint, the Israeli military said. It said the man got out of a car and drew a handgun, trying to shoot soldiers who opened fire and killed him. A passenger in the car was taken for questioning, the army said.

In Gaza City, an 11-year-old Palestinian girl died of injuries sustained last week in an Israeli missile strike. In all, 15 Palestinians -- 11 Hamas members and four bystanders -- have been killed in six missile attacks on Hamas targets in the past two weeks, part of a tough new policy adopted after a Hamas suicide bombing in mid-August killed 21 people on a Jerusalem bus.

"Hamas is in distress because of our activity, but we will not stop the pressure until the terror infrastructure is dismantled either by the Palestinian Authority or by us," he told Israel Army Radio.

Asked about civilian casualties -- 46 bystanders have been hurt in the past two weeks -- Mofaz said he has called off some strikes amid concerns that innocents could be harmed.

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