- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 22, 2003

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip The leader of Palestinian Islamic Jihad denied that a professor arrested in the United States had any link to the militant group and said yesterday that it would not attack Americans in retaliation for U.S. indictments against it.
U.S. authorities on Thursday issued a 50-count indictment against eight suspected members of Islamic Jihad, four of whom were arrested in the United States. Among them was a computer-engineering professor, Sami Al-Arian, accused of operating a racketeering enterprise to support the group.
The Islamic Jihad leader in Gaza, Abdallah Shami, said at a rally of about 1,000 people in Gaza City that Mr. al-Arian had no ties to the group.
"This is a false allegation," Mr. Shami said when asked about Mr. al-Arian. "The Americans are making and fabricating these lies to support the Israeli interests.
"We raise our voice in protesting this American measure, but our operations will continue against the Israeli occupation only," he said, ruling out attacks on U.S. interests. "We are not going to open any new fronts."
In Tel Aviv, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon met with opposition leader Amram Mitzna for a third time since Israel's Jan. 28 election. The two men agreed to meet again today.
Mr. Sharon is trying to bring the center-left Labor Party into his government. Mr. Mitzna has said he will join a Sharon-led government if the prime minister agrees to take significant steps toward resuming peace talks with the Palestinians, including dismantling settlements.
Mr. Sharon, who has said he wants a long-term interim agreement with the Palestinians, was quoted yesterday as saying that Israel's economy would not survive a prolonged conflict with the Palestinians.
"We will not make it. Our economy will not make it. Without a peace agreement, it will collapse," Mr. Sharon said, according to the Yediot Ahronot daily.
Also yesterday, Israeli soldiers killed two men described as Islamic Jihad gunmen trying to carry out separate attacks against an army post and a Jewish settlement in the Gaza Strip.
Soldiers at a lookout near the Jewish settlement of Dugit in northern Gaza spotted a Palestinian climbing over the settlement fence near the beach, said an army commander, identified only as Col. Ofer. Troops overpowered and killed him, the commander told Israel Radio.
Palestinian doctors said the man had been hit by 12 bullets and his lower body had been run over by an SUV.
In a second incident, a Palestinian jumped over the wall of the Erez industrial park into an abandoned parking lot, the Israeli colonel said.
When surrounded, he threw grenades and opened fire at the troops, the officer said.
Meanwhile, thousands joined the funeral procession in Gaza City of Riyad Abu Zeid, a leader of the Hamas military wing killed in a roadside ambush by Israeli undercover troops earlier this week.
Also in Gaza, the international aid group Doctors Without Borders said Israeli soldiers fired warning shots from a tank-mounted machine gun at one of its teams, even though the itinerary had been coordinated with the military.
The incident took place Wednesday near Dugit, said Olivier Maizoue, the head of the group in Israel and the Palestinian areas.

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