Arafat warns of increased violence

Published: Friday, November 1, 2002 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, October 31, 2002 at 10:18 p.m.
RAMALLAH, West Bank - Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat warned Thursday against any U.S. strike on Iraq, saying it would have catastrophic consequences in the Middle East and urged resolving the conflict through the United Nations.
In a joint interview with Associated Press Television News and an Israeli TV station, Arafat also predicted the Israel-Palestinian conflict will worsen now that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon depends on far-right and religious parties to cling to power.
Warning against a U.S. strike on Iraq, Arafat said, "I hope that this war will not take place because this will lead to a catastrophe in the whole area of the Middle East."
"I hope that such conflicts will be resolved in the United Nations since the Iraqis have accepted (U.N. weapons) inspectors back," he said.
Arafat also said he remains committed to achieving peace with Israel despite two years of fighting and said he considers suicide attacks against Israeli civilians to be immoral.
"I say to the Israelis, come tomorrow and sit at the negotiation table," said the beleaguered Palestinian leader, who has been mostly confined to his Ramallah compound for about 10 months. "Let's go back to the peace of the brave."
Arafat said Israel's repeated killing of Palestinian militants accused of terrorism has sabotaged his efforts to reach agreements with the radical groups to end attacks on Israelis. He pledged to work to end such attacks if Israel withdrew from the Palestinian areas that it has occupied in the past two years.
"Why don't you pull out, and we'll bring the Americans and we'll work together to end such attacks?" he said, addressing Israel's government.
Asked if he considered the attacks immoral, Arafat replied: "Yes, they are immoral. We condemn these attacks all the time."
Arafat expressed concern about the moderate Labor Party's pullout from Sharon's coalition on Wednesday, and Thursday's news that Israel's new defense minister would be tough-talking former military chief Shaul Mofaz.
"I expect an escalation against us, especially if we're talking about such a new government," Arafat said.
Meanwhile, violence continued Thursday as three Palestinians, members of the militant Hamas group, were killed in a blast that appeared to have been caused by a bomb that went off prematurely.
Six other people were injured in the blast, which occurred in the garage of a house in a crowded Gaza city neighborhood. Two of the wounded, also Hamas members, were in serious condition, medical officials said. Among the wounded was a 75-year-old man and a 10-year-old girl, the daughter of a Hamas militant.
An Israeli army spokeswoman, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the army had no connection to the explosion and that troops at a nearby lookout post witnessed the blast.
In the West Bank, a Palestinian gunman opened fire at an Israeli army vehicle near the Jewish settlement of Beit El, wounding one soldier before being shot and killed by an officer in the vehicle.
An officer identified as Maj. Idan said he shot the attacker after coming under fire and that the gunman used an olive grove as cover to open fire on the vehicle as it passed.
In the West Bank town of Jenin, meanwhile, Israeli troops demolished four family homes of Palestinian militants Thursday, bringing to nine the number of houses Israel has destroyed in the city's refugee camp in the past week.
Two of the destroyed homes belonged to suicide bombers and two belonged to suspected militants wanted by Israel, the military said. At least 50 people were made homeless by the demolitions, Palestinian witnesses said.

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