Israel alleges direct Arafat to terror

Monday, May 6, 2002

AP Diplomatic WriterWASHINGTON (AP) -- Israel's vigorous campaign to link Yasser Arafat to terror attacks has not yet convinced the Bush administration, which is urging the Israelis to negotiate with the Palestinians.

An avalanche of allegations from Israel, which also seeks to ascribe a direct role to Saudi Arabia in financing terrorists, could complicate President Bush's meeting Tuesday with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, as well as the administration's attempt to push Israel toward a land-for-peace deal with Arafat's Palestinian Authority.

Israeli officials previously had presented documents and other material seized in raids on the West Bank and obtained from captured terrorists as evidence of what the Israelis say is a direct Arafat role in supporting and sponsoring terror.

Then on Monday, officials traveling with Sharon accused Saudi Arabia of encouraging Palestinian bomb attacks against Israelis, including one that killed a U.S. citizen in 1995.

They said a committee under the auspices of the Saudi interior ministry knowingly funneled money to the families of suicide bombers, to jailed attackers and to the radical Islamic Hamas movement

For months, Israel has given more specific intelligence information on the Palestinian Authority and terror to the Defense Department, the State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency and other U.S. government offices.

The information establishes a Palestinian Authority connection but not "an absolute connection of Arafat to the terrorism," said a senior U.S. official who is familiar with the material.

The official, who spoke only on condition of anonymity, said the newest material had not been turned over to the government yet.

Sharon has dismissed Arafat as someone with whom he cannot negotiate peace. But the Bush administration, while expressing unhappiness with Arafat, has also said Israel must deal with him as the representative of the Palestinian people.

"He has disappointed me," Bush said Monday. "He must lead. He must show the world that he believes in peace."

When Sharon calls at the White House on Tuesday for his fifth meeting with the president, Bush plans to urge him to engage in serious political negotiations with the Palestinians, a senior U.S. official said.

And that means Arafat, said White House spokesman, Ari Fleischer.

"We'll always deal with other people," Fleischer said. "There's not only one person to deal with, but Chairman Arafat is the representative of the Palestinian people, as they have made clear."

The president said Israel's resistance to meeting with Arafat was an expression of disappointment in his ability to lead.

"After all, right before we had a security agreement done, a shipload of ammunition showed up that can probably be aimed at the Israeli citizens. So there is a high level of disappointment," Bush said of the attempt to smuggle 50 tons of Iranian arms to Palestinians.

Secretary of State Colin Powell, who met with Sharon on Monday at the Israeli's hotel, was asked if Arafat was still relevant in peacemaking.

"Well, he's still there," Powell said.

At the Israeli Embassy, officials distributed a 60-page document that included allegations that Fatah, the wing of the Palestine Liberation Organization directly under Arafat's control, had called for a million suicide bombers to march on Jerusalem.

Fatah took responsibility for a murderous attack in February in the Beit Yisrael neighborhood of Jerusalem in which nine people were killed, including children, the report said.

Sharon was holding separate talks Monday with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. He will meet Tuesday with Bush and with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.

At the White House meeting, Israeli and U.S. officials say an attempt will be made to define the framework for an international peace conference that Sharon proposed and Powell endorsed last week.

A Sharon adviser said the prime minister would also put forward suggestions on ways to revamp Palestinian security, legal and administrative systems.

On a busy day, Prince Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister, also called on Powell. Afterward he said his government could not endorse a Mideast peace conference.

"It's not a bad idea," Saud said. But he said his government needs to know more about what would transpire at the meeting.

Powell also was meeting with King Abdullah of Jordan, who is scheduled to meet with Bush at the White House on Wednesday.

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