- The Washington Times - Friday, March 22, 2002

The Bush administration said yesterday it was adding the group that claimed responsibility for yesterday's suicide bombing in Jerusalem to its list of foreign terrorist organizations, increasing the prospect of sanctions against its sponsors in Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement.

"Secretary of State [Colin L.] Powell took action to designate the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade as a foreign terrorist organization on March 19th," State Department spokesman Philip Reeker announced yesterday.

He said sanctions against the group would come into force in seven days when the listing appears in the Federal Register.

While Al Aqsa is considered an offshoot of Fatah, the faction led by Palestinian Authority leader Arafat, there will be no immediate action against that group. A State Department official said that the relationship between the organizations was still "unclear" but that an investigation has begun.

"Al Aqsa is comprised of an unknown number of small cells of Fatah-affiliated activists," said a State Department official who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "But there is no conclusive evidence these elements act with prior approval and encouragement of the senior leadership."

Hassan Abdel Rahman, who represents Mr. Arafat in Washington, also insisted the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade was made up of many small groups that are not under any central control.

"Each street has a couple of people who think of themselves as Al Aqsa," he said.

Asked whether sanctions on Al Aqsa could lead to sanctions against Fatah, he said, "I hope not. This could be extremely dangerous. Fatah is the backbone of the Palestinian Authority.

"If you say Fatah is a terrorist group, you are saying 70 percent of Palestinians are terrorists."

The listing of Al Aqsa as a terrorist organization makes it unlawful for anyone in the United States to provide it with cash or other material support, blocks funds belonging to the group and bars members of the group from obtaining U.S. visas.

The move "stigmatizes and isolates" the group internationally, the State Department said in a statement.

Vice President Richard B. Cheney had been expected to return to the Middle East for a meeting on Monday with Mr. Arafat in Cairo or Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, provided that Mr. Arafat cooperated in establishing a cease-fire. But a meeting is unlikely after suicide bombings in Israel yesterday and the previous day.

A Cheney-Arafat meeting the highest-level encounter with the Palestinian chief by the Bush administration would have sent a signal to Arab and other Muslim countries that the United States was not taking sides in the Arab-Israeli dispute.

It also would have freed Mr. Arafat from the Israeli siege put in place in December to force him to stop terrorist attacks against Israel. That would have allowed him to go on to Beirut for an Arab League summit late next week where a Saudi peace plan is at the top of the agenda.

The Bush administration is clearly upset at Mr. Arafat's failure to cooperate with peace moves led by retired Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni.

Mr. Reeker said the secretary of state called Mr. Arafat from President Bush's plane while en route to a poverty summit in Mexico yesterday to demand that the Palestinian leader act "now."

"The secretary called upon Chairman Arafat to condemn today's acts publicly and personally in the strongest manner" and to do so in English and in Arabic, Mr. Reeker said. "The secretary told Chairman Arafat he must punish the leaders of organizations responsible for recent attacks, making sure those responsible are brought to justice."

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