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Criticism for Israel Plan to Boot Arafat (AP) By IAN JAMES JERUSALEM, ISRAEL 09/12/03 3:22 PM) Source: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A1506-2003Sep12.html
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JERUSALEM - Israeli leaders shrugged off international condemnation Friday of their decision to "remove" Yasser Arafat whenever they choose, saying the world has no right to judge a nation facing constant suicide bombings and that the Palestinian leader should have been ousted long ago.
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Yasser Arafat emerged from his office for a second straight night Friday and rallied hundreds of supporters. "To Jerusalem we are going as martyrs in the millions," he told the crowd. Arafat also recited a passage from the Quran.
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The crowd of hundreds held photos of Arafat and chanted: "With our blood and souls we will redeem you."
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Arafat answered: "With our blood and souls, we will redeem you Palestine."
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Statements of concern rolled in from country after country a day after Israel´s vaguely worded decision that it would act to remove Arafat. The threat set off pro-Arafat demonstrations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and drew condemnation from the European Union, the United Nations and Arab countries.
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"In the early hours of this morning the phones rang from all over the world," Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said. "They´re asking us to do nothing against Yasser Arafat. Has the world turned on its head?"
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U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell telephoned both Shalom and the Palestinian foreign minister Friday to emphasize the United States´ opposition to exiling Arafat. White House spokesman Scott McClellan said "it would not help matters; it would only serve to give him a broader stage."
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Israel´s government says that as long as the 74-year-old Palestinian leader continues to wield authority, peacemaking efforts will fail. But Israel pulled back from any immediate operation, and on Friday abandoned lookout positions on top floors of two buildings overlooking Arafat´s compound.
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Arafat was defiant, declaring before thousands of supporters Thursday night that no one will "kick me out."
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The Israeli threats only seemed to bolster Arafat, who has been trapped in his office for a year and a half by troops and threats that if he leaves he might not be allowed back.
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Promising to defend their leader, thousands of Palestinians marched in the streets throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip. "With our souls, our blood, we will redeem you," they chanted outside Arafat´s compound in Ramallah, carrying portraits of Arafat and Palestinian flags.
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Israel´s security Cabinet announced its decision in principle Thursday, two days after twin Palestinian suicide bombings that killed 15 Israelis in a Jerusalem cafe and outside an army base near Tel Aviv. In their statement, Israeli leaders declared Arafat "a complete obstacle" to peace and said "Israel will work to remove this obstacle in the manner, at the time, and in the ways that will be decided on separately."
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That wording makes room for several options: deporting Arafat, capturing him or killing him. The Israeli daily Haaretz, however, reported that when Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz talked of killing Arafat during the Cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon asked him not to use that term.
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Some Israeli critics accused Sharon of looking foolish by making empty threats. "The bottom line is that they´re not expelling Arafat," said Emannuel Rosen, diplomatic correspondent for Israel´s Channel 10 TV. "This is a virtual game we´re playing among ourselves - undignified, not serious."
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But abroad, there were genuine concerns Israel might act and condemnations of the decision were widespread, with the French warning that expelling Arafat would be an error and the Arab League saying Israel had in effect "declared war" on the peace process.
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"It would be unwise to expel him," U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan told reporters in Geneva.
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Countries expressing concern ranged from Switzerland to Pakistan.
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"We believe it would be a terrible mistake that would have serious consequences across the whole region," EU spokesman Diego Ojeda said.
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Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath said Powell told him in a phone call that the United States pressed Israel to call off any immediate move against Arafat. He said Powell also gave assurances that the United States would push Israel to meet key commitments of the stalled "road map" peace plan, in particular to withdraw forces from Palestinian cities and freeze settlement construction.
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Mofaz, meanwhile, insisted Israel would act against Arafat. Speaking to reporters before a meeting with U.S. Ambassador Daniel Kurtzer - and with Kurtzer at his side - Mofaz said, "I am convinced the state of Israel has in the past made a historic mistake by not taking this decision earlier."
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Israel believes Arafat is at least indirectly to blame for the attacks on Israeli civilians over the last three years of fighting and charges that he´s done nothing with the security forces under his control to stop them.
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Education Minister Limor Livnat said that despite U.S. objections, Arafat - whom she compared to Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden - was no longer immune.
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"Israel is an independent and sovereign state and though it has a close and friendly, important relationship with America, it doesn´t take orders from America," Livnat said.
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Israeli public opinion favors strong action. A poll in the newspaper Yediot Ahronot on Friday showed 60 percent of Israelis would like to see Arafat killed or exiled. The survey had a margin of error of 4.4 percentage points.
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The immediate effect of the Israeli decision was an outpouring of Palestinian support Thursday night as thousands of demonstrators filled Arafat´s compound, where he emerged at the entrance to his sandbagged office building and flashed victory signs to the crowd.
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The Israeli decision meant that Sharon and Mofaz could decide on expelling Arafat without reconvening the Cabinet. Maj. Gen. Giora Eiland confirmed there are operational plans to carry out an expulsion, saying in comments carried by Israel TV that "there can be several plans for different situations."
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The Israeli decision came as Palestinian premier-designate Ahmed Qureia was putting together a Cabinet. Arafat picked Qureia to replace Mahmoud Abbas, who resigned Saturday. Qureia said expelling Arafat would "eliminate any possibility for me to form a Palestinian government."
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In Jerusalem, meanwhile, Israeli police stormed the city´s most hotly disputed holy site Friday, firing tear gas and stun grenades to disperse Muslim worshippers who police said threw stones down at Jewish worshippers at the Western Wall. Some witnesses said they didn´t see stones thrown but ran after they heard the shouts of Muslims atop the wall.
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There were no injuries reported, and crowds at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, built on a site that is revered by Muslims and Jews, quickly dispersed.
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Jerusalem police chief Mickey Levy blamed Arafat for encouraging the disturbance.
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The current Israeli-Palestinian fighting grew out of riots that erupted in September 2000 after then-opposition leader Ariel Sharon visited the site, known to Jews as the Temple Mount, in a display of Israeli claims to Jerusalem. Israel and the Palestinians both want the city as a capital. (© 2003 The Associated Press 09/12/03)
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