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Sharon fights shy of Arafat safety pledge

Jerusalem, April 5 (Reuters): Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon backed away today from a personal pledge to President George W. Bush not to harm Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Sharon, in a series of media interviews, also said his unilateral plan to remove all Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip but no more than four in the West Bank could delay “for many years” the creation of a Palestinian state.

“I am not vouching for his physical safety,” Sharon said of Arafat, the Palestinian President Israel accuses of fomenting violence in three years of conflict. Arafat denies the allegations.

“Whoever kills Jews or orders Jews and Israeli citizens to be killed...is a marked man,” Sharon told Ynet, the website of Israel’s Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper. Sharon acknowledged that he had promised Bush not to harm Arafat physically. But he said: “There have been changes since then,” including a US decision to adopt Israel’s refusal to negotiate with Arafat.

“At the time I made that undertaking, not to harm him physically...he still went around on red carpets,” Sharon told the Maariv daily. “Today, even these people (who honoured him) know exactly the extent of the damage he has caused.”

But any move against Arafat would likely anger Washington, Israel’s main ally. After remarks on Friday in which Sharon threatened Arafat with assassination, the US said it opposed harming him and had made its position clear to Israel.

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