- GAZA (Reuters) - Palestinian President Yasser Arafat said Palestinian
statehood was a reality despite the PLO's decision not to declare independence
on Tuesday, the deadline set by interim accords for a final peace deal
- "Whether they like it or not, our
state is already established," Arafat, apparently referring to leaders
of Israel's right-wing government, told reporters on his return from a
visit to North Africa and Europe.
- Earlier, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin
Netanyahu proclaimed victory for thwarting Arafat's long-standing pledge
to declare statehood on May 4.
- In the West Bank, Israeli troops firing
rubber-coated bullets shot and wounded at least 17 Palestinians protesting
at the delay in the proclamation, witnesses said.
- The Palestine Liberation Organisation,
under intense international pressure, decided last week not to declare
- The move was a retreat by Arafat, who
heads the Palestinian Authority that administers interim self-rule in parts
of the West Bank and Gaza. Arafat had pledged for months that May 4 was
a "sacred date" for Palestinians.
- "Netanyahu should not lie to himself,
thinking that he has won," said Nabil Shaath, a senior Palestinian
peace negotiator who accompanied Arafat on his trip abroad.
- "Netanyahu knows very well that
we have gained a lot on this day and that the world which stands beside
us looks at him with suspicions and with doubts," Shaath said.
- Fighting for re-election in a May 17
election, Netanyahu called Arafat a "wise man" for realising
the gravity of Israel's threat to annex parts of the West Bank and Gaza
should the Palestinian leader move to declare a state.
- "This is a great achievement for
the state of Israel and the government of Israel," Netanyahu, who
is trailing behind opposition Labour party leader Ehud Barak in election
polls, told reporters.
- The United States has urged Israelis
and Palestinians to return to the bargaining table after Israel's election
to complete a final peace accord within a year.
- In the West Bank town of Hebron, witnesses
said hundreds of Palestinian protesters, some masked and brandishing automatic
weapons, rained stones and petrol bombs on Israeli troops and blasted Arafat
for failing to declare independence.
- Israeli troops opened fire with rubber-coated
metal bullets, wounding 14 Palestinians and an Israeli television cameraman,
the witnesses said. Most suffered light wounds but a rubber bullet struck
one man in the head.
- Three Palestinians were lightly wounded
in a protests in the West Bank town of Beituniya. Protests in other parts
of the West Bank and Gaza passed without serious incidents of violence.