President Bush and his senior advisers issued a new barrage of warnings yesterday to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat after a meeting in which they discussed possible sanctions against his Palestinian Authority.
Though no decisions were made, the public disclosure that such a meeting even took place showed a further souring of U.S. attitudes toward Mr. Arafat in the wake of the Jan. 3 seizure by Israeli commandos of a freighter filled with Iranian arms reportedly bound for Palestinian territories.
“I am disappointed in Yasser Arafat,” the president told reporters during an airport stop en route to a speech in Portland, Maine.
His spokesman, Ari Fleischer, told reporters that U.S. officials were “appalled” by the involvement of senior Palestinian officials in the arms shipments, despite Mr. Arafat’s denial of any personal knowledge of the freighter.
Mr. Bush said, “In order for there to be peace, we’ve got to rout out terror. Ordering up weapons that were intercepted on a boat headed for that part of the world is not part of fighting terror.”
Meanwhile, a new round of violence was set off yesterday when a Palestinian suicide bomber killed himself and injured at least 18 Israelis by detonating a powerful explosive in a shopping district in Tel Aviv.
Within hours, Israeli F-16 warplanes attacked Palestinian targets in Gaza City and the West Bank. Witnesses said they saw ambulances rushing to a compound near the headquarters of Mr. Arafat in Ramallah, a building where the world-traveling Mr. Arafat has been confined in recent weeks by Israeli forces.
Mr. Bush met with senior foreign policy aides yesterday to discuss the latest Israeli-Palestinian violence. Sanctions against Mr. Arafat’s Palestinian Authority were discussed, although the administration took no official action yesterday.
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell told reporters that he had had a “long talk” with Mr. Arafat on Wednesday about the thwarted arms shipment.
“We continue to give a strong message to Chairman Arafat that he must act, and we continue to review our policy with respect to the Palestinian Authority and to Chairman Arafat,” Mr. Powell said.
The Associated Press reported yesterday that the sanctions under consideration include closing the Palestinian Authority’s diplomatic offices in Washington, placing Mr. Arafat’s security guard on the U.S. list of international terrorist organizations and even cutting ties altogether with the Palestinian Authority.
The last option is not considered likely, and has been opposed in internal administration councils by the State Department.
But the fact that it was leaked as an option at all shows the depths of the U.S. disillusionment with Mr. Arafat in recent days.
Mr. Arafat “knows what he needs to do, and of course the United States has a full range of options available to us of a political and diplomatic nature,” Mr. Powell said.
This article was based in part on wire service reports.