Sharon Hints That Arafat
May Be Killed

By Chris McGreal in Jerusalem
The Guardian - UK
Ariel Sharon has threatened that Yasser Arafat will meet the same fate as Hamas leaders who were assassinated earlier this year by the Israeli military.
In ambiguous comments to Israeli newspapers to mark the Jewish new year, the prime minister said he intends to force the Palestinian leader into exile. But he also hinted that Mr Arafat might be killed.
Speaking to Ma'ariv newspaper, Mr Sharon made direct reference to the Hamas spiritual leader, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, who was assassinated by a missile in Gaza in March, and his successor as the Islamic resistance movement's leader, Abdel-Aziz al-Rantissi, who was killed by the Israelis the following month.
"We operated against Ahmed Yassin and Abdel-Aziz al-Rantissi when we thought the time was suitable. On the matter of Arafat we'll operate in the same way, when we find the convenient and suitable time. One needs to find the time and to do what has to be done," said Mr Sharon.
However, the prime minister told other newspapers that he would send Mr Arafat into exile. Sheikh Yassin and Mr al-Rantissi were both exiled from the occupied territories at one time.
A prominent Palestinian minister, Saeb Erekat, said Mr Sharon's comments show that he intends "to kill President Arafat and to push the Palestinian people toward chaos".
But the Israeli prime minister's son, Omri, a member of parliament, said that the possibility of assassination "does not exist" and that Israel should leave Mr Arafat "stuck" in his battered Ramallah compound.
"If we do this foolishness and hit him, will an [alternative Palestinian leader] arise? No, he will be seen as your collaborator," Omri Sharon told members of the ruling Likud's central committee.
In April, Mr Sharon backed away from a personal pledge to President Bush not to harm the Palestinian leader by saying that whoever kills Jews or orders their deaths "is a marked man".
However, it is thought unlikely the prime minister intends to move against Mr Arafat in the near future. The threat may be timed to try to reassure critics on the far right that the government's plan to pull 7,500 Jews out of the Gaza strip, and a small number from a part of the West Bank, does not represent a weakening of its resolve to confront the Palestinian leadership.
Mr Sharon's security cabinet yesterday approved steps to begin the Gaza pullout, including compensation payments to Jewish settlers of up to £280,000. The government is offering bonuses to settlers who agree to leave of their own accord in the hope of defusing resistance to the pullout.
The government expects to spend £350m compensating settlers and a similar amount moving military installations and other infrastructure.
Mr Sharon also rebuffed pressure from his finance minister and chief political rival, Binyamin Netanyahu, for a referendum on the withdrawal.
Mr Netanyahu argues that a ballot would lend legitimacy to the "disengagement plan" and weaken claims by the settlers and the far right that Mr Sharon is acting undemocratically by ignoring a poll within his Likud party that rejected the pullout.
Mr Netanyahu said that without a vote there could be an "explosion" of resistance by the settlers and their supporters. But the prime minister accused him of siding with the settlers.
"The real intention is to delay implementation," said Mr Sharon. "If a minister thinks that we are facing an explosion, he needs to act with all his might to make sure that there is no explosion, so that no one might even contemplate that by means of threats of explosion a cabinet decision can be changed. Instead of stamping a seal of approval on those threats and capitulating to them, I would expect from him and the other ministers to express in the strongest terms possible their opposition to threats."
The police said they were investigating death threats against Mr Sharon and officials responsible for implementing disengagement.
Jerusalem's chief of police, Ilan Franco, said: "We have opened an intensive investigation regarding threats that have been received in recent days. The threats were to murder the prime minister and officials in the administration."
The Israeli news service, YNet, quoted officials from the Shin Bet security service as saying they feared for Mr Sharon's safety and "would prefer for the prime minister to avoid leaving his office".
* Masked gunmen shot dead an accused rapist on his way to court in the West Bank city of Ramallah yesterday.
The shooting marked the second fatal attack in less than two months on detainees in the custody of Palestinian security forces.
Palestinians have faced internal strife recently, stirred by militants complaining of corruption in the Palestinian security forces. The gunmen attacked the car in which Ramy Yaghmour and other detainees were travelling from the Palestinian special forces headquarters.
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