Palestinian official says armed struggle has been a mistake

Tuesday, September 30, 2003

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip -- The Palestinians were better off before they launched their uprising against Israel, the ousted Palestinian security chief said Monday, as thousands marched to mark the three-year anniversary of the revolt.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Mohammed Dahlan also said the Palestinians misread the dramatic changes brought by the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks on the United States, and that hurt their aspirations of statehood.

It is rare for Palestinians to openly criticize the "intefadeh" despite growing misgivings among some, especially those whose lives have been severely disrupted by Israeli travel bans and military raids aimed at keeping suicide bombers and gunmen out of Israel.

In Tel Aviv, a prominent leader of the uprising, Marwan Barghouti, said he had no regrets about the past three years. "To die is better than living under occupation," Barghouti told an Israeli court, delivering closing arguments in his murder trial. Israel accuses him of involvement in attacks that killed 26 Israelis.

"I am proud of the intefadeh. I am proud of the resistance to the Israeli occupation," Barghouti said, addressing the judges in Hebrew.

Also Monday, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat emerged smiling from his battered West Bank compound after a bout with the flu.

Aides said Arafat, 74, sent for his personal physician, Dr. Ashraf al-Kurdi, who lives in Jordan. Arafat had been ill for three days and was unable to keep down food, said his aide, Nabil Abu Rdeneh.

Smiling at reporters after descending the steps slowly, Arafat thanked King Abdullah II of Jordan for sending al-Kurdi and three other doctors, adding, "but now the illness is over, thank God."

The Palestinian uprising broke out Sept. 28, 2000, after Israel's then-opposition leader Ariel Sharon, now prime minister, visited the hotly contested Jerusalem holy site known to Muslims as Haram as-Sharif and to Jews as the Temple Mount.

Violent clashes followed, and grew into violence marked by repeated terror attacks against Israelis and Israeli military strikes into Palestinian areas. A total of 2,477 people have been killed on the Palestinian side and 860 on the Israeli side.

Anniversary rallies on Sunday and Monday were relatively muted and small in scale compared to previous years.

On Monday, about 3,000 supporters of the Islamic militant group Hamas, which has carried out scores of suicide bombings, rallied in Gaza City. A Hamas leader, Ismail Hanieh, said the group is ready to halt attacks on Israeli civilians "if the Zionist occupation stops killing civilians."

Dahlan, who served as security chief under outgoing Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, said the Palestinians' first uprising, from 1987-1993, in which demonstrators faced soldiers with rocks and bottles, was much more effective than the current revolt. The first uprising "brought us back to our homeland," said Dahlan, who along with Arafat, returned from exile in the mid-1990s.

"We were in a better position than we are now, politically and internationally," Dahlan told AP in an interview at his Gaza City office.

On Sunday, the Lebanese newspaper The Daily Star quoted Dahlan as saying that taking up arms was a mistake and harmed the Palestinians' national interest.

Dahlan said the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks were a turning point for the Palestinians. "We did not understand 9-11 in a correct and fundamental way that would have allowed us to help the national interest of our people, to bring back the international legitimacy" of the Palestinian Authority, he told AP.

Dahlan said Palestinian leaders did not respond quickly enough to the changed situation. He said he made recommendations to the leadership at the time but did not elaborate.

Other critics of the uprising have said suicide bombings and shootings weakened the Palestinians' international standing at a time when the West was becoming increasingly sensitive to the threat of terrorism.

Dahlan was security chief under Abbas, who stepped down after Arafat failed to relinquish control over security forces. Dahlan, who had the support of the United States, will not be in the Qureia government.

The new Cabinet was presented to Arafat's Fatah movement on Saturday. An Arafat loyalist, Nasser Yousef, will serve as interior minister, a job that grants him control over part of the security branches, with the rest commanded directly by Arafat, who also presides over a new 12-member National Security Council.

The composition of the Cabinet was relatively smooth, though Saeb Erekat, an Arafat stalwart, said he didn't know yet whether he would accept the job of minister of negotiations with Israel.

Qureia, who says he wants a broad Cabinet, was rebuffed by a radical PLO faction, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, or PFLP.

On Sunday, Qureia met with the group's leader, Ahmed Saadat, in a West Bank jail, where Saadat is being held under U.S. and British supervision for his alleged role in the assassination of an Israeli Cabinet minister in 2001.

Saadat told Qureia his group would not join the Cabinet, officials said.

At Barghouti's trial, judges said Monday that legal proceedings would not be completed by Nov. 10 as planned. Palestinian sources have said Barghouti tops a list of hundreds of inmates whose release the Lebanese guerrilla group Hezbollah is seeking as part of a prisoner swap with Israel. However, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and other officials have said Barghouti would not be released.

Kadoura Fares, a Fatah legislator, said some 400 Palestinian prisoners would be released in a German-brokered prisoner swap between Israel and Hezbollah.

Israel and Lebanon are negotiating the release of an Israeli businessman and the bodies of three Israeli soldiers, all captured in October 2000, in exchange for Palestinian, Lebanese and Syrian prisoners.

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