- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 13, 2002

The militant group that claimed responsibility for yesterday's suicide bombing in downtown Jerusalem has been linked directly to Yasser Arafat's main faction, al Fatah, but its supporters insist he has no control over its members.
The Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade is an offshoot of Mr. Arafat's Fatah faction of the Palestinian Liberation Organization. Though a secular group, in recent weeks it has initiated several suicide bombings, embracing the tactic previously used only by militant Muslim groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
Israelis were quick to point the finger at Mr. Arafat yesterday when a teen-age girl from the embattled town of Jenin detonated a bomb at a bus stop near the Mahane Yehuda open market in Jerusalem.
Mr. Arafat and Palestinian officials issued no statements yesterday, either to condemn the bombing or to deny Mr. Arafat's involvement in the attack.
The attack came came only hours after Secretary of State Colin L. Powell arrived for peace negotiations and it prompted the secretary of state to delay a meeting with Mr. Arafat, with the possibility that it could be held tomorrow.
Palestinian officials blamed the attack on Israel's 2-week-old incursion into Palestinian cities, an effort by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to stop suicide bombings.
"We need to stop Sharon," Palestinian legislator Hanan Ashrawi told CNN.
"His lethal policies are drawing blood on both sides. That's why we need a serious intervention international troops. And we need to end the occupation if there is to be security for both people."
Palestine Liberation Organization representative in Washington Hassan Abdel Rahman said that Al Aqsa is formed from disgruntled local groups in the "streets" who are organized loosely into cells that are beyond the control of Mr. Arafat.
Neta Golan, an Israeli supporter of Mr. Arafat, also said the Palestinian leader does not control the group.
"The Americans and Israelis waited for this to happen to delegitimize the only leader the Palestinians have," Mr. Golan said on Fox TV News.
Israelis say seized documents signed by Mr. Arafat authorized payments to the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade and prove that he is in charge.
"Arafat has personally been allocating funds to terrorist groups who conduct suicide bombings. He continually speaks about jihad and calls upon martyrs to liberate Jerusalem. The facts speak for themselves," Israeli Embassy spokesman Mark Regev said in Washington.
The Palestinians say the documents were forged by the Israelis.
The State Department last month declared Al Aqsa a foreign terrorist organization, barring visas to its officials and blocking it from U.S. fund raising.
But the department did not name Fatah or Mr. Arafat as terrorists.
Al Aqsa pioneered the used of women as suicide bombers since it is secular and unfettered by Islamic fundamentalist constraints against using women in combat. Before yesterday, at least two other Palestinian women had blown themselves up during attacks on Israelis.
Israel has turned the Al Aqsa documents over to the United States for examination.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said yesterday that U.S. agencies have not yet come to any conclusions about them.
He also pressed Mr. Arafat to condemn the bombing.
"The president believes that if Yasser Arafat meant what he committed in the Oslo Accords to denounce terrorism, that today would be a particularly apt day for Yasser Arafat to publicly express himself in denunciation of this terrorist attack and to show leadership," Mr. Fleischer said.
"There are clearly people in the region who want to disrupt Secretary Powell's peace mission, and the president will not be deterred from seeking peace," he said.

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