- The Washington Times - Monday, December 17, 2001

JERUSALEM Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, under heavy pressure from Israel and much of the world to crack down on militants, made a rare televised address to his people yesterday, calling on them to halt all attacks against Israelis and vowing to punish the perpetrators.
Mr. Arafat, reading from a speech and occasionally looking straight into the camera, had harsh words for Israel, calling on it to stop its "brutal war" against the Palestinians.
His remarks drew skepticism from Israel and some optimism from the United States, though a White House spokesman said the Palestinian leader must match his words with deeds.
"I today reiterate [a call for] the complete and immediate cessation of all military activities. I renew the call to completely halt activities, especially suicide attacks which we have condemned and always condemned," Mr. Arafat said in a speech aired in the evening, as celebrations marking the end of Ramadan got under way.
"We will punish all planners and executors and we will hunt down the violators firmly," he said, framed by a blown-up photograph of Jerusalem's disputed al-Aqsa mosque.
Signaling his concern at the growing popularity of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad, militant groups responsible for a wave of suicide bombings against Israel, Mr. Arafat said all Palestinians must line up behind one central authority his elected administration.
Though Mr. Arafat, 72, has made similar remarks during nearly 15 months of fighting with Israel, Palestinians said this was his most forceful and unequivocal call for an end to the violence.
To what extent hard-liners in the West Bank and Gaza were ready to respond remained uncertain, analysts said.
"I don't remember him saying things in such a decisive way. In fact, I don't remember him addressing his people at all like this in a very long time," said Abdullah Hourani, a Palestinian strategic analyst who watched the speech at his home in Gaza.
Mr. Arafat's address follows two weeks of particularly bloody clashes, including Palestinian attacks that killed 44 Israelis and a wide military offensive by the Jewish state that has caused a similar number of Palestinian casualties.
After Palestinians ambushed a bus in the West Bank last week, Israel announced it was severing all ties with Mr. Arafat, who had been an off-and-on peace partner since 1993. Israel also smashed his helicopters and encircled his Ramallah headquarters with tanks, making his travel in the West Bank and Gaza virtually impossible.
Mr. Hourani said the Israeli measures coupled with a surge in international pressure alarmed Mr. Arafat and prompted the speech.
Mr. Arafat has declared a state of emergency in the West Bank and Gaza and yesterday began closing offices of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad, both fundamentalist opposition groups. Newspapers printed by the groups were also shut down.
But the measures appeared to leave little impression on Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who has demanded Mr. Arafat arrest Islamic militants and smash their infrastructure.
"When Arafat wants to control the situation, he can control it. When he wants to take action, he can take action," said Mr. Sharon's media adviser, Raanan Gissin, rejecting the claim that the Palestinian leader was hamstrung by the extremists.
In Washington, a statement released by State Department spokesman Richard Boucher called Mr. Arafat's plea to his people "constructive" but said the United States was waiting to see concrete action against the militants.
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell yesterday blamed Palestinian violence for U.S. envoy Anthony Zinni's departure from the region after three weeks of efforts to arrange a cease-fire.
"We sent Gen. Zinni over to try to get that dialogue going, and all of that was blown up by these terrorist organizations on the Palestinian side," Mr. Powell said.
Fresh violence stalled early progress in the peace process made by Gen. Zinni, who was told Saturday to return to Washington, Mr. Powell said.
"Hamas, a terrorist organization, started killing innocent civilians with car bombs in Jerusalem, Haifa and elsewhere. And they attacked this process; they attacked innocent Israelis," Mr. Powell said on "Fox News Sunday." "But even more fundamentally and troubling, they attacked Yasser Arafat and his authority to lead the Palestinian people toward a cease-fire and a process of peace."
Nonetheless, Mr. Powell said Gen. Zinni would return to the region "when circumstances suggest that there is a real reason for him to go back," he said on NBC's "Meet the Press."
There was no immediate reaction from Hamas, whose popularity has soared since fighting erupted in September of last year, to either the Powell statements or Mr. Arafat's speech.
The group rejects any conciliation with Israel and for years has been critical of Mr. Arafat's administration for its willingness to engage in peace talks with the Jewish state.
Members of the group have clashed with Palestinian security men several times in recent months but Hamas has rejected calls to topple Mr. Arafat.
Joseph Alpher, an Israeli political analyst, said it was no longer clear if Mr. Arafat the icon of the Palestinian liberation movement had the stature in the West Bank and Gaza to rein in the militants.
"He's saying all the right things. But there's a general sense that either he's incapable of enforcing these directives or he doesn't want to, and we've long lost our ability to figure out which it is," Mr. Alpher said.

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