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Israel Threatens Arafat as Prisoner Issue Simmers (REUTERS) By Dan Williams JERUSALEM, ISRAEL Additional reporting by Wafa Amr, Nidal al-Mughrabi and Joseph Logan 07/12/03 09:50 AM ET) Source: http://www.reuters.com/newsArticle.jhtml?type=topNews&storyID=3078683
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JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel could deport or arrest Palestinian President Yasser Arafat if he holds up his prime minister´s efforts to implement a U.S.-backed "road map" to Middle East peace, Israeli diplomatic sources said on Saturday.
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"Israel conveyed to Washington that if Arafat continues to undermine Abu Mazen, we will reconsider his location and status," a source said, using Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas´s nom de guerre. "By status we mean immunity."
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Abbas, a moderate and reformer, became prime minister earlier this year following pressure from the United States, which has sidelined Arafat, accusing him of fomenting violence in a 33-month-old Palestinian uprising. He denies it.
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Palestinian officials say Arafat is trying to weaken Abbas, viewing him as too soft on Israel when it comes to implementing reciprocal measures required by the road map en route to Palestinian statehood in the West Bank and Gaza Strip by 2005.
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On June 29, Abbas coaxed a temporary truce out of militant groups spearheading the uprising. Israeli troops withdrew from the West Bank city of Bethlehem and areas of Gaza in security handovers that have proven largely successful.
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But tensions still simmer over 6,000 Palestinians arrested in roundups and anti-militant swoops. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has said several hundred minor offenders could be freed -- not enough to satisfy Palestinian demands for total amnesty.
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Palestinian officials say Abbas´s credibility is at stake, and some see a deliberate design by Israel´s hawkish government. "Sharon is working on obstructing the road map," Arafat told reporters in the West Bank city of Ramallah, where he has been blockaded by Israel after waves of suicide bombings last year.
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Israeli officials have in the past said deporting, arresting or even killing ex-guerrilla leader Arafat were viable options.
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A top Palestinian official said the Arafat-Abbas fracas could be solved with a shakeup of the Fatah national movement at whose helm both men have stood for decades.
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"Fatah needs change through holding Fatah conferences and elections. Fatah needs change. Not just the leadership, everything in Fatah needs change. Fatah without democracy cannot continue," Information Minister Nabil Amr said.
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The Palestinian cabinet called on the international community to continue dealing with Arafat and said it would pursue prisoner releases.
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Though not part of the road map, the issue is likely to be raised during Sharon´s visit to Washington, which was moved forward from September and an Israeli official said was now expected to take place in the last week of July.
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Palestinians also seek further Israeli withdrawals in the West Bank. Sharon has demanded that Abbas begin to dismantle militant groups first, but a top Palestinian official said no crackdown was needed.
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"Until now we have done 90 percent of the work through internal dialogue. We are pursuing the other 10 percent and will convince them (militants) of the value of our vision," Minister for Security Affairs Mohammed Dahlan said.
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Sharon is to meet British Prime Minister Tony Blair in London on Monday. Blair has been active in Middle East peacemaking -- including with Syria, which on Saturday said it was willing to restart negotiations which broke down in 2000.
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But Syria rejected Israel´s demand for talks without preconditions. Syria wants Israel to return the Golan Heights, captured during the 1967 Middle East war. (© Reuters 2003 07/12/03)
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