- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 3, 2004

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat yesterday brushed off Israeli threats to kill him, as U.S. and other world leaders criticized Israel’s prime minister for suggesting an act that could plunge the region deeper into chaos.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said in interviews published a day earlier that two of his archfoes — Mr. Arafat and Lebanese Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah — should not feel beyond the reach of assassination by Israeli forces.

Yesterday, Mr. Arafat emerged from his office to speak to reporters in the West Bank headquarters complex where he’s been confined for more than two years by such threats.



“For me, I don’t care,” Mr. Arafat said in halting English from the front steps of his office. “I care only for my people, for our students, for our children.”

His aides, however, say they are taking the threats seriously. Last month, Israel killed Hamas founder and spiritual leader Sheik Ahmed Yassin, the most senior Palestinian figure targeted by Israel in more than three years of fighting.

In Washington, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage responded to Mr. Sharon’s comments, saying, “Our position on such questions — the exile or assassination of Yasser Arafat — is very well known. We are opposed, and we have made that very clear to the government of Israel.”

Russia also criticized the Israeli threats yesterday.

“Russia has repeatedly spoken against the practice of extrajudicial executions, which not only violate the norms of international law but also run counter to efforts to break the meaningless cycle of violence,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Yakovenko said.

Russia — along with the United States, the European Union and the United Nations — has sponsored the stalled “road map” peace plan, which aims to end the fighting and create a Palestinian state next year.

Meanwhile, violence continued yesterday, with a Palestinian gunman killing an Israeli man and wounding his 12-year-old daughter in their home in the Avnei Hefetz settlement near the Palestinian town of Tulkarm in the West Bank.

Palestinian security officials identified the gunman as Zohair Arda, 18, a Hamas militant from the refugee camp, and said he had been released days earlier from an Israeli jail.

The assailant, armed with a Kalashnikov assault rifle, cut through the settlement’s perimeter fence shortly after midnight and broke into a home, firing shots that lightly wounded the girl. When her father appeared with a pistol, the attacker shot him to death, the army said.

In the southern Gaza Strip, Israeli forces searched tunnels used to smuggle weapons under the Egyptian border. Troops blew up one tunnel in the border town of Rafah in a massive explosion that leveled a three-story house above the underground passageway. The blast left behind a deep crater.

In frequent raids on the Gaza-Egypt border, soldiers have uncovered 80 such tunnels during the recent years of fighting, according to military figures.

Also yesterday, the Israeli military arrested 26 wanted Palestinians in a large-scale raid in the West Bank city of Nablus. Witnesses said more than 70 jeeps drove into the city before dawn, and that soldiers ordered people out of homes during the raid.

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