- The Washington Times - Monday, October 27, 2003

JERUSALEM — Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said for the first time yesterday that Israel has no plans to kill Yasser Arafat, as defense officials said the military would hook up electricity, water and other services to eight settlement outposts in the West Bank.

The decision on the outposts came despite the government’s earlier pledge to remove them as part of a stalled U.S.-backed peace plan.

Dismantling dozens of unauthorized settlement outposts was one of Israel’s obligations under the peace “road map,” which was put forth in June with great fanfare but quickly bogged down over disagreements and violence.

In response to Palestinian suicide bombings, Israel’s Cabinet last month decided to “remove” Mr. Arafat at an unspecified time, prompting speculation that Israel would expel or assassinate the Palestinian leader.

“I don’t see any plans to kill him,” Mr. Sharon told a group of European lawmakers yesterday, while accusing Mr. Arafat of orchestrating attacks on Israelis during three years of fighting.

“You don’t have to worry. He’s alive and not only is he alive but very active in taking all the … steps … that bring to murder of children, civilians, the old,” Mr. Sharon said.

He also insisted it was military policy to remove unauthorized outposts, which usually consist of a few trailers set up by settlers as the basis for a more-permanent settlement.

“We do not build now, we do not aid a new settlement there or Jewish communities there. If sometimes it happens, the army removes them,” he told the lawmakers. “What is authorized is authorized. What is unauthorized is unauthorized.”

Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia, meanwhile, said he welcomed the prospect of talks with Hamas on halting attacks on Israelis. The Islamic militant group, which just days earlier had taken part in a deadly attack on a Jewish settlement in Gaza, said Sunday it was ready to hear Mr. Qureia’s truce proposals. Egypt also confirmed its participation in the truce talks.

Mr. Qureia has said he wants to negotiate a truce with Israel, and for that he would need assurances from Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other militants that they are ready to halt attacks on Israelis.

“We are working toward a mutual cease-fire, and if they [Israel] are ready, then we are also ready,” the Palestinian prime minister said yesterday.

Meanwhile, one Palestinian was killed, one wounded and three were detained by Israeli troops near the border fence between the Gaza Strip and Israel. It was not clear whether the five were trying to sneak into Israel, the army said.

The assurances that services would be provided to the eight unauthorized settlements were given to residents of the outposts in a letter by Ron Shechner, the settlement adviser of Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz.

Mr. Shechner told the Yediot Ahronot daily that this does not mean the outposts are being legalized. However, the decision appears to imply recognition, and as such would violate Israel’s promise to the United States not to establish new settlements.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat accused Israel of systematically sabotaging the road map.

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