Contingency plan to expel Arafat angers Palestinians

Sunday, August 18, 2002

JERUSALEM -- Palestinians in the divided West Bank city of Hebron chafed against the Israeli curfew reimposed Saturday while a report of an army contingency plan to expel Yasser Arafat further inflamed Israeli-Palestinian tensions.

Palestinian residents of Hebron said the curfew was not enforced for a week. But Saturday morning, as residents shopped, visited or strolled the streets, the curfew suddenly intruded again.

Palestinian roundup

Witnesses in Hebron said Israeli troops rounded up several dozen Palestinians as shopkeepers and vegetable vendors remained open and people refused to return to homes where they have been confined virtually continuously since Israeli-Palestinian violence erupted in September 2000.

Israeli military sources said a few people were detained briefly for violating the curfew.

Israel said its troops imposed curfews on Hebron and six other West Bank Palestinian towns and cities to stop militants from entering Israel and launching attacks, including suicide bombings.

Palestinians trapped in their homes for days at a time complain of frustration and boredom and accuse Israel of collective punishment, while the measures have devastated the Palestinian economy.

Hebron, home to about 140,000 Palestinians, is the only West Bank city divided into Israeli and Palestinian zones. The center of the city, where about 400 Israeli settlers live, is under Israeli control.

Also Saturday, the army reported that it arrested three "wanted Palestinians" in Gaza near the Egyptian border. The army did not elaborate.

Witnesses also said Israeli security forces grabbed an activist of the Hamas militant group from his Nablus grocery store Saturday. The army confirmed the activist's arrest but provided no details.

Meanwhile, Palestinian officials were angered Saturday by an overnight Israeli Channel Two TV report claiming the army had a contingency plan to expel Palestinian leader Arafat by force. Arafat would be sent to an unnamed Arab country having no diplomatic relations with Israel and no close ties with the United States, Israel's premier ally.

The report, which did not cite any sources, said the plan was approved in principle by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and entailed a raid on Arafat's Ramallah compound by special forces, who would ensure Arafat was not harmed.

The report said the contingency plan was not necessarily likely to be implemented anytime soon. The army and the prime minister's office would not comment.

"We denounce the mere thinking of such despicable ideas," Palestinian minister Saeb Erekat said from Cairo, Egypt. "At a time when we are trying to revive the peace process the Israeli government is thinking such ideas."

Erekat was in Cairo after traveling to Saudi Arabia and Jordan to brief foreign ministers on his recent trip to Washington, where he met with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell. Speaking by telephone, Erekat said his talks with Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres also were discussed.

Israeli television said more Israeli-Palestinian security talks were planned for today. Talks have stalled over an Israeli proposal called "Gaza first."

Under the plan, Israel would pull its forces back from the outskirts of Palestinian population centers in Gaza and turn security over to Palestinian forces as a test case. If successful, Israel would implement the same procedure in the West Bank.

Palestinians rejected the plan, insisting a withdrawal from Gaza be accompanied by the removal of troops from at least one West Bank town.

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