- The Washington Times - Monday, July 15, 2002

JERUSALEM Israeli sources say Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat recently transferred $5 million to his wife in Paris and that other leading Palestinians have transferred tens of millions to private bank accounts abroad as fears grow that the Palestinian Authority is near collapse.
"We have recently identified the transfer abroad of tremendous sums by Palestinian leaders who are preparing nest eggs for the future," an unnamed senior Israeli political figure was quoted by the Tel Aviv newspaper Yediot Achronot.
The official told the newspaper that the money sent by Mr. Arafat to his wife, Suha, who lives in Paris with their young daughter, came from funds provided by Saudi Arabia for assistance to the Palestinian people.
The Israeli source said the second-ranking man in the Palestinian hierarchy, Abu Mazen, recently channeled $70 million in Palestinian Authority funds to European banks through his brother, a wealthy businessman operating in the Gulf states.
Reports of transfers of Palestinian funds have also appeared in Arabic newspapers, including El-Wattan el-Arabi, published in Paris, and the Jordanian newspaper Asabil.
The Israeli report, published yesterday, appears to be part of a broader campaign by the government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to discredit Mr. Arafat and to accelerate his fall from power in the wake of President Bush's call last month for new Palestinian leadership.
In the latest military action yesterday, an Israeli F-16 warplane attacked the home of a senior Palestinian militant who escaped without injury seconds before missiles slammed into the building in the Gaza Strip, Palestinian witnesses said.
At least five persons were wounded in what witnesses said was an attack on the residence of Youssef Abed al-Wahab, a leader of the Islamic group Hamas in southern Gaza.
An Israeli army spokesman said the target was a building owned by Mr. Wahab and used to make bombs for attacks on Israeli troops in Gaza, as well as for meetings of Hamas operatives.
Witnesses said Mr. Wahab bolted from the house near the town of Khan Younis immediately after hearing aircraft. The house was destroyed, and four nearby buildings were damaged.
The attack also created pandemonium at the nearby trial by Palestinian authorities of a man accused of collaborating with the Israelis, leading to the deaths of three Palestinians.
Security guards and participants ran out of the courtroom for fear of being hit with a rocket, creating a security lapse that allowed gunmen to rush in and fatally shoot the defendant. Security sources said a number of people had been detained over the shooting and that an inquiry had begun.
Last week in Paris, the 72-year-old Mr. Arafat's mental functioning was called into question by the head of Israel's Shin Bet security services, Avi Dichter, in a meeting with French Interior Minister Nicholas Sarkozy.
Mr. Dichter said Mr. Arafat's thought processes have greatly deteriorated and that his behavior is marked by faulty judgment.
Mr. Dichter has argued against forcibly exiling Mr. Arafat. Mr. Sharon has frequently expressed his desire to do so but has been dissuaded by Mr. Dichter, who argued that such a move would make Mr. Arafat a martyr and bring international condemnation.
Mr. Sharon remains determined, however, not to revive Mr. Arafat's political standing by permitting even indirect negotiations with him. Last week, he quarreled with Foreign Minister Shimon Peres for meeting with senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, who is closely associated with Mr. Arafat.
"Erekat is Arafat," said an official reflecting Mr. Sharon's view, "and to the extent that the Palestinians try to make Arafat's involvement in talks more conspicuous, we should stay away."
Mr. Sharon had given Mr. Peres permission to meet with the new Palestinian interior and finance ministers, who are not considered particularly close to Mr. Arafat, to discuss security and financial matters and the easing of restrictions on the Palestinians, but not to engage in political negotiations. This will happen, says Mr. Sharon, only with new Palestinian leadership.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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