Jerusalem, Sept. 14 (Reuters): Israel’s vice premier today said killing Palestinian President Yasser Arafat was an option in its threat to “remove” him and the US rejected the idea, warning it would trigger “rage throughout the Arab world”.
Also alarmed at Israel’s threat was the chief Palestinian peace negotiator, Saeb Erekat, who expressed the fear that if Israel kills Arafat, Palestinian militias could unleash their wrath against moderate leaders such as himself.
“Killing (him) is definitely one of the options,” Ehud Olmert, a mainstream member of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s cabinet, told Israel Radio today.
“We are trying to eliminate all the heads of terror, and Arafat is one of the heads of terror,” said Olmert, who elaborated on a decision taken Thursday by Israel’s security cabinet to “remove” Arafat, calling him an obstacle to peace.
Israel’s threat followed a recent surge in Israeli-Palestinian violence, including back-to-back suicide bombings that killed 15 people on Tuesday. Israel, backed by the US, blames the 74-year-old Arafat, a former guerrilla leader, for fomenting much of the violence of a nearly three year Palestinian uprising for statehood in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Arafat denies the charge for which the Israeli military has kept him largely confined to his battered headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah for 21 months.
The cabinet did not say when or how its threat against Arafat would be carried out, but the decision has brought an international outcry, and an outpouring of support for Arafat.
Tens of thousands of Palestinians demonstrated on Arafat’s behalf throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip yesterday, and today the protests spread through the Muslim world to nations as far away as Indonesia.
US secretary of state Colin Powell rejected Olmert’s remarks. He said if Arafat was either exiled or killed “I think you can anticipate that there would be rage throughout the Arab world, the Muslim world and in many other parts of the world”.
“The US does not support either the elimination of him or the exile of Arafat...the Israeli government knows that,” Powell said.