- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 20, 2004

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat accused Israel of polluting the West Bank and Gaza Strip with depleted-uranium bullets, causing a sharp increase in cancer rates.

“They have caused cancer that is like Hiroshima and Nagasaki,” Mr. Arafat said in an interview.

“America could not find uranium in Iraq, but we have found it here in Palestine — and the Israelis are using it to kill our people.”

Mr. Arafat, his eyes bulging with anger and his lips trembling, the effect of rumored Parkinson’s disease, encouraged reporters to visit Palestinian hospitals and see the cancer patients.

Cancer specialists at two hospitals, one in Ramallah and the other in Bethlehem, said they had seen no increase in cancer rates during the current uprising, which began in September 2000.

The Palestinian leader was referring to dense bullets of depleted uranium that are sometimes used by U.S. forces to pierce tank armor. The Palestinians have no tanks.

Mr. Arafat also accused Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of being linked to the 1995 assassination of then-Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

Mr. Sharon is “part of that group of fanatics who killed my partner, Yitzhak Rabin, with whom I signed the peace of the brave,” said the Palestinian leader, referring to the now-defunct 1993 Oslo peace accords.

Israeli government spokesman Danny Seaman described Mr. Arafat’s charges as “the product of a sick mind and a fevered imagination.”

Apart from what Mr. Arafat said during the interview at his Ramallah compound, his tone and demeanor raised questions about the degree of control that the Palestinian leader has over national events and over himself.

The visit lasted several hours. Palestinian officials said two previous interviewers were ordered to leave after angering Mr. Arafat with their questions.

A list of questions or topics was demanded before this interview, and many questions were vetoed by Mr. Arafat’s top adviser, Nabil Abu Rdeineh.

Mr. Arafat declined to discuss the recent upheavals within the Palestinian Authority.

To back the charges of cancer-causing uranium bullets, Mr. Arafat waved a report that he said he had received from the so-called Quartet behind the latest Middle East peace initiative — the United States, European Union, Russia and the United Nations.

“This report, an American report, proves it,” he said, handing a copy to visiting reporters.

The document turned out to have been written by an obscure peace group. It contained no evidence that Israel had used uranium bullets. It did conclude that Israel probably has such weapons in its armory because it has a close military relationship with the United States.

Separately, no analysis of cancer rates was available at the Palestinian Authority’s official bureau of statistics or its department of health.

Mr. Arafat’s remarks mixed aggression toward his interviewers with anger at his enemies.

He became upset when asked why the Israelis had recently killed the two top leaders of the rival Palestinian group Hamas but had not eliminated him.

“How dare you?” he yelled, his finger pointing menacingly and lips quivering more than usual. “Are you a Mossad agent? Do you work for the killers of Rabin? Of course they want to kill me, too.

“Look at my bedroom that he bombed. Remember, one of [Mr. Sharon’s] ministers said a 2-ton bomb would finish me off … he tried to kill me 13 times in Beirut.”

Israeli spokesmen have said that if their army or air force wanted to kill Mr Arafat, they could have easily done so numerous times. For more than two years, he has remained at his compound in Ramallah.

Mr. Arafat insisted on conducting the interview in a small room in front of a photo of the Dome of the Rock, the ubiquitous symbol of Palestinian ambition for sovereignty over the holiest site in Jerusalem.

Mr. Arafat said he was convinced Mr Sharon was not serious about his plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip.

“If he’d wanted to withdraw, he need not have gone to his own [Likud Party] first — when they voted against,” he said.

“He could have gone to the Knesset and got a big majority with [the opposition Labor Party] supporting him. So I think it’s just a show, just a theater to fool the world.”

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