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Army ready to remove Arafat when ordered

Jerusalem, Oct. 23 (Reuters): The Israeli army is ready to “remove” Palestinian President Yasser Arafat if the government gives the order, the Jerusalem Post newspaper reported today, citing a senior military source.

The report in the Right-wing daily, which recently editorialised in favour of killing Arafat, followed a decision in principle by Israel’s security cabinet last month to “remove” the Palestinian leader. The ministers did not say how or when.

The threat against Arafat, a 74-year-old symbol of Palestinian nationalism, sparked worldwide outcry and drew cautions from Israel’s key ally Washington as it struggles to revive an international “road map” to peace in West Asia. “We have presented plans showing the risks and the chances of the operation itself, including the options to remove him alive or not,” the Post quoted the military source as saying.

“The government has to make a decision to allow the army to act. The army is ready,” the source was quoted as saying. The Post did not provide further details. The army declined comment.

Arafat has been confined to his West Bank compound in Ramallah for much of the past two years, accused by Israel and the US or fomenting violence in a Palestinian uprising that erupted in September 2000, a charge he denies.

Israeli security sources said commandos in the past year have rehearsed snatching Arafat and expelling him to a third country, possibly in North Africa.

Arafat has vowed to fight to the death if Israel tries to exile him.

Many Palestinians see the threat against Arafat as aimed at eradicating their limited self-rule in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which Israel captured in the 1967 war.

Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said any move against Arafat “would mean the destruction of the peace process, the destruction of the Palestinian Authority and having a state of chaos and anarchy (in the occupied territories)”.

Yesterday, militants in the West Bank refugee camp of Tulkarm killed two Palestinians who confessed to collaborating with Israeli forces, witnesses said.

In the nearby divided city of Hebron, Israeli forces razed the home of a gunmen who wounded two Jewish settlers before being shot dead yesterday. Israel says such demolitions deter militancy. Palestinians call it collective punishment.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon appeared to rule out expelling Arafat in an interview last week, but then told parliament on Monday that Israel was still determined to “remove” the Palestinian leader.

In an interview published last Friday, Sharon told the Jerusalem Post: “Our calculations for years have been that expelling him (Arafat) would not be good for Israel.”

The Right-wing Prime Minister said security around Arafat increased the chance of him being hurt in any operation to capture him. Palestinians, who launched an uprising for independence in 2000, have vowed to defend Arafat to the death.

Some members of Sharon’s hawkish cabinet last month raised the idea of killing Arafat, but the Prime Minister opposed it and foreign minister Silvan Shalom later ruled it out.

(Additional reporting by Mohammed Assadi in Ramallah)

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