- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 13, 2003

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in a February 2001 meeting “gave the green light” to terrorist groups and Palestinian security forces to unleash a new wave of suicide bombings against Israel, Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said yesterday.

With new Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon inching toward the first top-level summit in more than two months, Mr. Mofaz in an interview with The Washington Times detailed why senior Israeli officials continue to have deep doubts about Mr. Arafat’s still-powerful role.

Mr. Mofaz, former chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, recalled being shown a package of intelligence reports when he arrived at his office Feb. 11, 2001. Violent Palestinian resistance to Israeli forces had flared again four months earlier in the reaction to the collapse of the Camp David summit.

The reports told of a meeting held by Mr. Arafat with senior leaders of Palestinian militant organizations and the Palestinian Authority’s own security forces.

“This was the moment he gave the green light to the terrorist organizations and to some members of his own security groups” to engage in suicide bombing attacks, Mr. Mofaz said.

At one point in the meeting, Mr. Arafat asked those around the table why there were not more Israeli casualties from the violence, Mr. Mofaz said.

“You know what to do,” Mr. Arafat reportedly said.

Added Mr. Mofaz, “And from this moment, the wave of suicide bomb attacks started in Israel.”

Mr. Mofaz said the intelligence was “undeniable,” but declined to reveal how the information had been obtained by the Israelis.

Given that history, the defense minister said yesterday that Israel will insist that Mr. Qureia’s new 24-member Cabinet take concrete steps to curb terrorist violence “from the very first moment” if a new round of peace talks is to succeed.

“Because Arafat is still controlling the Palestinian security groups, I cannot predict what will happen,” said Mr. Mofaz, who was in Washington this week for talks with Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and other senior U.S. officials.

Dismissing Mr. Arafat as “a terrorist, period,” Mr. Mofaz said the Palestinians are under pressure to control terrorist attacks if the U.S.-backed “road map” for a durable peace is to proceed.

U.S. officials expressed cautious optimism as Mr. Qureia yesterday convened the first meeting of his new government, put together after nearly two months of infighting.

A previous Palestinian government, under Mahmoud Abbas, was undermined by feuding with Mr. Arafat despite strong support from the Bush administration.

State Department officials said Secretary of State Colin L. Powell spoke by phone with Mr. Qureia, welcoming the new government but expressing reservations again about Mr. Arafat’s continuing influence on security forces.

With Mr. Sharon’s government easing its opposition to peace negotiations as the new Palestinian government settles in, Mr. Powell stressed to Mr. Qureia that “performance is what counts and the Palestinian Cabinet needs to … take tangible steps against terrorist organizations,” State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said.

Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom told Israeli radio that a summit between Mr. Qureia and Mr. Sharon could take place within two weeks. I

Mr. Qureia has said he wants to negotiate an end to attacks by Palestinian terrorist groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad and then press Israel to stop military incursions in Palestinian territory.

The wave of Palestinian attacks on Israeli targets has appeared to ease in the weeks since a suicide bombing at a restaurant in Haifa killed 21 and wounded more than 60 people in October.

But Mr. Mofaz credited improved Israeli security measures — not any efforts by Palestinian security forces — for the respite.

“There is no cooperation today with Palestinian security groups,” Mr. Mofaz said. “More than that, the Palestinians are still not taking any steps against the terrorist groups.”

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