Arafat uses freedom to blast Israel

Yasser Arafat flashes the victory sign May 2 in Ramallah after emerging from his headquarters for the first time since the end of a month-long Israeli siege. (PPO/BP Images)

Yasser Arafat flashes the victory sign May 2 in Ramallah after emerging from his headquarters for the first time since the end of a month-long Israeli siege. (PPO/BP Images)

JERUSALEM, May 2 (JTA) — The United States hoped Yasser Arafat would use his new-found freedom to clamp down on terrorism, but so far he is using it to vilify Israel. The Palestinian Authority president emerged Thursday from his Ramallah headquarters and immediately denounced Israelis as "terrorists, Nazis and racists." Arafat, who had been confined to his compound since Israel´s Operation Protective Wall began March 29, flashed victory signs to a crowd of supporters outside the headquarters before getting into a waiting motorcade that took him to downtown Ramallah, where he visited a hospital. He also told the crowd that the Jenin refugee camp henceforth would be known as "Jeningrad," a reference to the Nazi sieges of Stalingrad and Leningrad during World War II. Hours earlier, Israeli troops had withdrawn from Arafat´s compound. The withdrawal took place after six Palestinians wanted by Israel arrived at a prison in Jericho, where they will be guarded by a U.S. and British team. They include the four assassins of Israeli Tourism Minister Rehavam Ze´evi; the head of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the group to which the assassins belong; and the P.A. official who oversaw a $50 million weapons shipment from Iran that Israel intercepted in January. Arafat has no immediate plans to travel abroad, aides said. In an interview following the completion of the Israeli withdrawal, the Palestinian leader said he first wants to visit the Palestinian population centers where Israel carried out its military campaign. Political observers expect him to rally the Palestinian crowds behind him as he lashes out at the Israeli campaign. Arafat may fear that if he travels abroad Israel won´t allow his return. In an interview with ABC-TV´s "Nightline" on Wednesday night, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said he could not guarantee that Arafat would be allowed to return if violence flared while he was abroad. "We´re not asked to give any guarantees. We´re not going to give any guarantees," he said. Sharon added that he would present a new, "serious" peace plan when he meets with President Bush at the White House next week. But before Sharon´s trip to Washington, Israel was waiting to see what steps the U.N. Security Council would take following a decision to disband the fact-finding team into the battle at the Jenin refugee camp. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan announced Wednesday that he planned to disband the mission because of disagreements with Israel over its makeup and mandate. Syria withheld a draft resolution at the Security Council meeting Wednesday that could have resulted in sanctions against Israel because the resolution did not have enough backing. Britain´s ambassador to Israel, Sherard Cowper-Coles, told Israel Radio on Thursday that Israel should have cooperated with the panel. "We believe that an inquiry into what happened in Jenin on all sides would have been in Israel´s interests. We regret that for all sorts of complicated reasons, this inquiry has not gone ahead," he said. "We don´t think it is in the interest of Israel." While the siege in Ramallah ended, a standoff continued at Bethlehem´s Church of the Nativity, where several dozen Palestinian gunmen are holed up, along with a number of civilians and clergy. On Thursday, a Palestinian policeman was killed during a gun battle with Israeli troops at the church. The fighting took place hours after fire engulfed parts of the besieged compound during another fierce firefight. Palestinians set the fires when they feared that Israel might attack the church, CNN reported. In another development, a senior Vatican official arrived in Israel on Thursday to try to help end the monthlong standoff at the church. Cardinal Roger Etchegaray met with Israeli President Moshe Katsav, who said the break-in at the church a month ago by armed Palestinian "terrorists is both a war crime and a violation of international law." Meanwhile, Israeli troops continued search-and-arrest operations in the West Bank. Some 100 Palestinians, including 30 wanted terrorists, were arrested in an Israeli operation in a refugee camp near Hebron. Near Tulkarm, Israeli troops arrested at least five wanted Palestinians, the army said.

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