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Arafat retracts Mukata fugitives´ eviction order (JERUSALEM POST) By KHALED ABU TOAMEH 08/04/03) Source: http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?pagename=JPost/A/JPArticle/ShowFull&cid=1059884680063
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Under immense pressure, Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat on Sunday backtracked from his earlier decision to evict 17 wanted Palestinians from his Mukata compound in Ramallah.
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Arafat´s decision to allow the fugitives to remain followed threats from Fatah´s armed wing, al-Aksa Martyrs Brigades, to end the hudna (temporary truce) declared by Palestinian factions last month and resume terrorist attacks against Israel.
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On Saturday night, members of the group in Ramallah, Tulkarm, and Jenin opened fire at IDF positions and vehicles, but no one was wounded.
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PA Minister of State Abdel Fattah Hamayel said that, under the terms of a compromise reached Sunday, the wanted men would not be moved to Jericho or imprisoned by the Palestinian Authority and Israel. He said discussions were under way to guarantee the safety of all the fugitives and other wanted members of the Aksa Brigades in the West Bank.
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"The [wanted] men will not be sent to prison in Jericho," Hamayel declared. "We´re now trying to find a solution not only for those in the [Ramallah] compound, but for the others in different parts of the homeland who are wanted and targeted by the occupation forces. We want a solution that preserves the dignity of these men."
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Arafat spokesman Nabil Abu Rudaineh said the Palestinian Authority is trying to find a safe place for the fugitives. "We want to protect them," he said. "We want to prevent their arrest or assassination by Israel. The Americans are aware of our plans and we hope to reach an agreement that would serve the hudna and the interests of the Palestinian people."
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Arafat had angered many Fatah and PA officials, who argued that the Palestinian leadership should not repeat the mistakes of the past.
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They pointed out that the Palestinian leadership made a mistake when it struck a deal with Israel regarding the wanted men holed up in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem last year, sending them to the Gaza Strip and Europe.
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They also noted the case of the murderers of tourism minister Rehavam Ze´evi and Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine secretary- general Ahmed Sa´adat, who were transferred from Arafat´s compound to a prison in Jericho. The two deals were reached with the help of the US and the European Union.
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The 17 Fatah fugitives moved into the battered compound in order to avoid capture by the Israeli security forces. Some of them have lived in the compound for months.
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Fatah leader Sakher Habash said his group´s main goal is to protect the wanted men wherever they are. "There should be no wanted people," he added. "The road map and the hudna oblige Israel to withdraw from Ramallah and all the Palestinian areas so that no one would be wanted." Kamel Ghanem, one of the 17 fugitives suspected of masterminding a suicide attack inside Israel, said he and his friends were told that they would be allowed to return to the same building where they had been staying before Palestinian security personnel rounded them up on Saturday and confined them to a single room.
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Ghanem said the Palestinian leadership is seeking assurances from the US that Israel would not try to arrest or kill the wanted men. In return, the Aksa Martyrs Brigades would announce their commitment to the hudna.
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PA Minister of State for Security Muhammad Dahlan said he and Maj.- Gen. Amos Gilad, the coordinator of government activities in the territories, failed in talks on Sunday to agree on further Israeli withdrawals from West Bank cities under a US-backed peace plan.
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"The Israelis repeated their proposal to withdraw from Jericho and Kalkilya, but we insisted on a pullout from major cities such as Ramallah," Dahlan said.
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Dahlan said he turned down an Israeli demand to move the fugitives to Jericho.
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"All these fugitives are committed to the cease-fire and I am against taking measures against them. This will endanger the continuity of the truce," he explained.
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In the Gaza Strip, Hamas warned against turning Jericho into a new Guantanamo Bay, where the US is holding several hundred suspected terrorists from al-Qaida and other organizations. "Hamas views with extreme seriousness what is happening to the wanted men in Ramallah," said Ismail Haniyeh, a spokesman for Hamas. "This could be the first step toward harming all the resistance fighters of the Palestinian people." (© 1995-2003, The Jerusalem Post 08/04/03)
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