Arafat signs basis for constitution

Friday, May 31, 2002

RAMALLAH, West Bank -- Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has signed a package of laws granting basic rights to his people and regulating his government, officials said Thursday, just before world diplomats began arriving to press him for reforms.

In the latest of almost nightly incursions into Palestinian towns, Israeli troops entered Nablus in about 40 tanks and armored personnel carriers early today, Palestinians said. They were heading for two refugee camps and surrounded the Balata camp, headquarters of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade militia, linked to Arafat's Fatah movement.

Israeli military sources confirmed the operation was under way. Residents said Palestinians set off two mines under Israeli tanks, and the tanks fired five shells, knocking out electricity in the eastern part of Nablus.

On Thursday, Palestinian officials confirmed that two days earlier Arafat signed the Basic Law, which had been sitting on his desk for five years. It is a kind of framework for a constitution.

The signing came ahead of a parade of diplomats visiting Ramallah.

Assistant Secretary of State William Burns was the first to see the Palestinian leader. Afterward, Burns expressed support for negotiations that would result in a Palestinian state and "supporting Palestinian efforts to build strong institutions." German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer also met Arafat Thursday, and Osama el-Baz, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's political adviser, was due for talks Friday. Over the weekend, CIA Director George Tenet is to begin a mission aimed at restructuring thecompeting Palestinian security services.

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