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Hillary Clinton Rebukes Arafat's Wife

November 13, 1999|From Associated Press

WADI MUSA, Jordan — A day after Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat's wife assailed Israel during a visit by Hillary Rodham Clinton, the first lady sharply rebuked her, saying Friday that such inflammatory rhetoric hurts the peace process.

But Clinton herself came under criticism for her tardiness in condemning the remarks by Suha Arafat, who accused Israel of using "poison gas" and raising cancer rates in Palestinian lands. Amid mounting Israeli outrage, a top Palestinian official expressed regret Friday for any embarrassment the first lady had suffered.

The escalating flap overshadowed even a spectacular backdrop--the 2,000-year-old Nabatean city of Petra, whose rose-colored temples and tombs are carved into towering sandstone cliffs. Clinton began a two-day visit to Jordan there, accompanied by daughter Chelsea and Jordan's Princess Aisha.

The trouble began during a brief visit Thursday to the West Bank, sandwiched into Clinton's two-day visit to Israel--considered a prime opportunity to woo the crucial Jewish vote in her expected run for a U.S. Senate seat from New York.

While introducing Clinton in the town of Ramallah, Suha Arafat said in remarks delivered in Arabic: "It is important to point out the severe damage caused by the intensive daily use of poison gas by Israeli forces in the past years that led to an increase in cancer cases among Palestinian women and children."

She did not specify what she meant by poison gas.

At the time, Clinton merely listened politely without changing her expression, but overnight she issued a statement criticizing the remarks.

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