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THE MIDDLE EAST

Leaders Concerned for Arafat

April 01, 2002|From Times Wire Services

PARIS — World leaders sought guarantees from Israel that Yasser Arafat would not be harmed in its new military offensive, warning Sunday that the siege of the Palestinian leader's headquarters could lead to catastrophe.

Israel has said it has no intention of harming Arafat and instead aims to isolate him as it launches a campaign against militants after a string of Palestinian attacks.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said in an address to his people that Israel was "at war" and vowed to destroy a "terrorist infrastructure" he said was directed by Arafat.

Arab leaders were not convinced Israel would refrain from harming the Palestinian leader.

If Arafat is harmed, "the resistance will go on because each Palestinian is Yasser Arafat," Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Abdullah said.

"It is not a surprise at all for a man like Sharon, with his known past, to attempt to harm Arafat and our brotherly Palestinian people," the de facto ruler said, according to the Saudi state news agency.

Jordan, one of only two nations to have signed a peace accord with Israel, summoned Israel's ambassador and threatened to take unspecified measures in its ties with Israel unless the action was immediately stopped, said Information Minister Mohammed Affash Udwan.

Morocco's King Mohammed VI telephoned Sharon to seek a guarantee that Arafat would not be harmed, a diplomatic official said in Rabat, the Moroccan capital. The king also urged Sharon to halt military operations and respect a U.N. resolution passed Saturday calling on Israel to withdraw troops from Palestinian cities.

European nations echoed demands that Israel comply with the resolution, which also calls on both sides to cooperate with U.S. truce efforts.

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said the escalation of violence risked "a destabilization of the entire region" and urged Israel to guarantee Arafat is not hurt.

China fears "disastrous consequences" for the Middle East "if unexpected incidents took place to Arafat's safety," Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan told his Israeli counterpart, Shimon Peres, in a phone call, the New China News Agency reported.

Several leaders said that Arafat had no means of halting the spiraling violence while trapped inside his office, where phone lines and electricity have been cut.

"I do not think that Arafat is in a situation where he can manage this," Swedish Prime Minister Goeran Persson said in a radio interview.

French President Jacques Chirac, in a TV interview, cautioned both Israelis and Palestinians against a policy of "force and terror."

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