- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 19, 2002

RAMALLAH, West Bank The American peace mission to the Mideast is doomed and greater conflict lies ahead soon, says the leader of the Palestinians' largest political and paramilitary faction.

In an interview with The Washington Times, Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti said that "there is no hope for agreement with this terrorist government of [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon."

He also accused the U.S. government of "giving the green light" to Israel for repression of Palestinian national aspirations and warned it would suffer "disastrous" consequences in the region.

Mr. Barghouti, 42, said in the telephone interview Wednesday that he would not declare an immediate end to the cease-fire during the current U.S. peace-making efforts, but said Palestinians had the right to "react" to Israeli provocation.

That included, he said, killings in direct response to what he termed Israel's policy of assassination.

He declined to condemn killing of civilians such as the attack by a gunman from Fatah's Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade that left six Israelis dead at a girl's coming-of-age party in Hadera, northern Israel, Thursday night preferring to characterize such acts as responses to Israeli provocation.

He said that unless the United States increased pressure on Israel to yield to Palestinian political demands, he would instruct his forces to return to the "intifada," or uprising, that has left more than 1,000 people dead in 15 months of conflict.

Mr. Barghouti denied that the present spate of killings is a reversal of Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat's Dec. 16 call for a cease-fire. But he said, "We will try to keep the cease-fire. We are still committed. But … I think it will collapse soon."

Mr. Barghouti's forces comprise Tanzim, Fatah's official military wing, and the somewhat more shadowy Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, which has claimed responsibility for a number of killings.

The attacks came soon after the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade leader in the West Bank town of Tulkarm, Raed Karmi, was blown up by a land mine near his home. The militant was accused by Israel of nine killings.

Mr. Barghouti said Mr. Karmi had "exercised his right to resist" and that, rather than kill him, Israel should have applied to a Palestinian court and presented evidence.

Mr. Karmi had been high on an Israeli list of 33 most wanted men handed to the Palestinians by U.S. envoy Anthony Zinni two months ago.

Mr. Barghouti said the Palestinian Authority should not be involved in arresting those wanted by Israel and declined to comment on the Palestinian claims they have detained the leader of the radical Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, blamed by Israel for the assassination of Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi.

Mr. Barghouti said the Palestinian Authority "will not succeed by arrests or detentions. … You cannot arrest people fighting for your cause."

He predicted that after the current U.S. efforts foundered, Israel would further tighten its "siege" around major Palestinian towns and step up its targeting of suspected terrorists.

Mr. Barghouti called the recent seizure of a ship loaded with arms purportedly meant for Palestinians an Israeli publicity stunt, because the Gaza coastline is tightly patrolled by Israelis. "No one can smuggle in that way," he said.

But he defended the Palestinian groups' attempts to assemble weapons for their armed struggle. "We do not like arms, but we have the right to get weapons from everywhere," he said.

The current Israeli policy, he said, is to seek to topple Mr. Arafat and to negotiate "from zero" with a new leadership.

He called on the United States to be "brave" and exert strong pressure on Israel.

"The Americans will discover they did a disaster in the Middle East. We are very close to the point of far more violence and disaster," he said.

Mr. Barghouti said the Palestinian movement's original tactic of taking each bit of territory offered by Israel and demanding more has not worked.

"Our object is to liberate Palestinians, taking all the territory captured by Israel in 1967," which would include all of East Jerusalem, he said.

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