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Israel Says Papers Show That Arafat Paid 15 Militants

Controversy: A Palestinian official, however, suspects that the displayed documents for disbursing $6,000 to wanted men are forged.


JERUSALEM — Israeli officials Thursday made public two documents that they said were signed by Yasser Arafat authorizing a total of $6,000 in payments to 15 Palestinian militants wanted by Israel for shooting and bombing attacks.

Israel offered the documents as evidence to back its frequent claim that the Palestinian Authority president violates the 1993 Israeli-Palestinian peace accord by directly supporting terrorism.

A senior Palestinian official said he suspected that the documents were forged.

Both documents, taken from Arafat's compound after Israeli troops stormed it last Friday, were presented to reporters as faxed requests from senior officials of Arafat's Fatah movement. Arafat signed in a corner of each fax and wrote the amounts to be paid, Israeli officials said.

One document, said to be from Fatah's West Bank leader, Hussein Sheik, asked for $2,500 in "financial aid" for three "brethren," including Raed Karmi. Arafat's purported reply, dated Sept. 19: "Allocate $600 to each of them."

At the time, Karmi was the commander of the Fatah-affiliated Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade militia in the West Bank town of Tulkarm. Three months earlier, Israel had put him on its wanted list and asked Arafat to hand him over. Israel held Karmi responsible for nine killings. Karmi was killed in January when a bomb exploded near where he was walking.

'Please Allocate $350 to Each'

The other document is said to have come from Karmi, asking "urgent financial aid" for 12 of his fighters. The request was first faxed to Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti, who faxed it to Arafat with a recommendation that the fighters be given $1,000 each, Israeli officials said.

The reply at the bottom, above Arafat's purported signature, reads: "Please allocate $350 to each."

Israeli officials provided reporters with photocopies of the documents, both handwritten in Arabic, along with an English translation.

Dan Meridor, the Israeli Cabinet official who briefed reporters, said the documents showed that Arafat had "a direct link to terrorist attacks, including the finance of them--a direct link that cannot provide for any deniability."

Neither document itemizes what the 15 men were to be paid for, and Arafat's reported authorizations were apparently no more specific than the routine approvals he grants for salaries of public functionaries throughout the self-governing Palestinian territories.

"You could say, 'OK, he just paid them salaries,' " said Col. Miri Eisen, an Israeli military intelligence officer. "But all these men did the entire time was commit acts of terror against us. . . . Every single one of them was on our wanted list."

Campaign to Discredit Palestinian Authority

Other Israeli officials seized on the disclosure to advance a campaign to discredit the Palestinian Authority as a partner in negotiating peace and have Arafat expelled. Israeli soldiers have confined him to a few rooms of his West Bank headquarters in Ramallah since last Friday.

Lt. Gen. Shaul Mofaz, the Israeli army's chief of staff, said the documents prove that "the chances of reaching a peace arrangement with Arafat are nonexistent."

Senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said that he hadn't seen the documents but that he expected they were fabricated and accused Israel of using them to distract attention from its week-old military offensive across the West Bank.

Eisen responded: "These are real documents. We have no doubt about them whatsoever. The state of Israel does not forge documents."

She said the documents were among two truckloads of papers taken from Arafat's headquarters.

On Tuesday, Eisen had presented what she said was an invoice submitted by the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade to Arafat's chief financial officer, requesting money for a month's supply of about 30 bombs. But there was no evidence that Arafat had approved the request, she said.

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