- The Washington Times - Monday, April 1, 2002

CAIRO Arabs expressed frustration yesterday at their countries' inability to help besieged Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, as their leaders warned they would take unspecified measures unless the attack on Mr. Arafat ended.
"There are no Arab leaders, no Arabs anymore," shouted electrician Ashraf Farouk, 32, who was drinking tea with milk in a Cairo cafe and watching Egyptian television footage of dead Palestinians. "We want weapons to fight, [but] our governments are standing in our way."
"Where is the Arab army?" chanted some of the tens of thousands of Egyptian students who demonstrated yesterday.
"Arabs, we have had enough humiliation," shouted protesters in a march of more than 2,000 people in Damascus, Syria.
Pro-Palestinian protests also took place in Jordan, Lebanon, Mauritania, Oman and Sudan. In Mauritania, police fired tear gas to disperse thousands who denounced Israel and accused the United States of backing the Jewish state.
Arabs have demonstrated every day since Friday, when Israeli troops took control of the West Bank city of Ramallah. Mr. Arafat has since been confined in his office building by Israeli troops, while Israeli forces battle Palestinians in the city, rounding up hundreds of Palestinian men from their homes.
With little influence over Israel, Arab governments urged the United States, the United Nations and European leaders to take action.
King Abdullah II of Jordan called U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and discussed ways to "provide protection to the Palestinian people" and force Israel to end the siege on Mr. Arafat, the official Petra news agency reported. Jordan signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994.
Jordanian Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher told the Israeli ambassador in Amman that Jordan would take unspecified measures unless the attack on Mr. Arafat ended.
Jordan's options included further downgrading its representation in Israel, asking the Israeli ambassador to leave, or cutting or suspending ties.
Egyptian protesters called for their government to send the Israeli ambassador home. Egypt, the only other Arab nation with a full peace treaty with Israel, has rejected cutting such links, saying they form an important avenue to Israeli decision-makers.
Egypt is unlikely to take any step that would undermine its position as a key mediator and voice of centrism, a role that gives it international stature and cements its ties with the United States.
At the Arab League headquarters in Cairo, Palestinian Planning Minister Nabil Shaath told reporters he was working "to intensify the tone of the Arab support" for the Palestinians.
"All the [Arab] capabilities must be mobilized to confront Israel," Mr. Shaath said. "I hope we can intensify pan-Arab action from statements, condemnations and contacts to a bigger step."
But even Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, known for saber-rattling against Israel, said his hands were tied.
"You well know that we will do anything possible to help you remain steadfast and lead you to victory, but you know that we are fighting on other fronts … and you also know the geography factor," Iraq's state news agency quoted him as saying.


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