Israeli health minister Danny Narveh told a number of UN and other officials during an informal chat on Wednesday that Arafat must be physically removed from his Ramallah base.

In a stark warning amid increasing tension, one of the western diplomats at the Narveh briefing described the next 24 hours as critical ... and he made it clear his express concern focussed on Arafat's personal safety.

On condition of anonymity, the official told Aljazeera.net on Wednesday that Yasir Arafat may not remain in the Palestinian territories once Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon returns from India.

Sharon is due back in Israel by 01:00 (GMT) on Thursday.

“What concerns me is that Yasir Arafat may not even be around in 24 hours," added the source.

Naveh's revelation will not surprise many observers of Israeli politics. Less than a week ago Silvan Shalom told Israeli Radio that he thought "Arafat's expulsion is an inevitable result after years of involvement in terrorism".

His comments come as the Palestinian Authority condemned Israel Wednesday's attack in Gaza and another appeal was made for international observers to be sent to the Palestinian territories.

International force

After Israel's missile attack, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said an international force may be needed to end spiraling violence in the Palestinian territories.

Speaking in Bosnia on Wednesday, Ivanov said either the Middle East quartet - made up of Russia, the United States, European Union and United Nations - or the UN Security Council must consider drastic change.  
  

Russian Foreign Minister Igor
Ivanov suggests international
peacekeeping

"It seems that soon ... tough demands must be presented in order to keep to the peace roadmap, and in order for these demands to be met, we may need to introduce international forces in the zone of conflict," he told a press conference.

Ivanov added he was “greatly concerned with the escalation of violence” and stressed that without a more decisive international involvement a solution could not be found to stop the circle of violence.  
  
Not an issue

Israel has previously rejected calls for a multi-national force on its territory.

A prime minister’s office spokesman, David Sanger, said no comment would be made until the details of Ivanov’s proposals came to light.

However, Aljazeera.net's diplomatic source said Ivanov’s proposal was not an issue at the present moment.

Speaking from Jerusalem, the official said neither Washington nor Israel were interested in supporting the idea of an international force.

“An international force is just not on the cards at the moment. The Palestinians welcomed the idea two years ago, but no one in Tel Aviv or Washington will welcome the idea.”