Israel defends Abbas, undermines Arafat

Israel has said it considers the latest wave of human bomb attacks an attempt by Palestinian resistance groups to weaken Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas.

    Arafat under more pressure

    An Israeli government spokesman described the attacks as a “declaration of war” against Abbas, who is pushing for implementation of the “road map” plan.

    The US-sponsored plan calls on the Palestinian Authority to rein in groups fighting to oust Israeli occupation forces from the West Bank and Gaza. 

    Israel placed sole responsibility for the attacks on Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, who came under yet more pressure with some Israeli ministers pushing for his expulsion.


    Five Palestinians have blown themselves up in the last three days in separate operations targeting Israelis, shortly after Abbas and Israeli premier Ariel Sharon held talks on the “road map”.


    "We have to hit Arafat, because from his headquarters in Ramallah he is continuing to send messages abetting terrorism, receiving guests, when he should be completely isolated, his life made more difficult and his political death precipitated," Minister of Science and Technology Eliezer Zandberg told public radio.

    Trade and Industry Minister Ehud Olmert told the Israeli daily Maariv on Tuesday he had suggested to Sharon “isolating Arafat under complete house arrest so that he cannot speak with anyone.”


    Others were more cautious, saying that removing Arafat would only weaken Abbas, who the Israelis see as somebody with whom they can do business. "We have to strengthen Abu Mazen (Abbas' nickname), but we cannot do that by expelling Arafat. Removing Arafat is not a sure way of getting rid of him but it will surely provoke the end of Abu Mazen," said Yossi Sarid from the left-wing Meretz Party.

    Abbas' reaction


    But Abbas, who lacks popularity among Palestinians, tried to distance himself from statements made by Israelis in his support. He accused Israel of fabricating stories about sharp disagreements between him and Arafat.


    “Arafat is the legitimate leader elected to lead the struggle. And we are in complete harmony,” said Abbas.

    Bush: Abbas is working for peace

    The Palestinian prime minister received a phone call from US President George Bush on Tuesday urging him to rein in the groups behind the latest bombings.

    White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said, “President Bush’s judgement is that Abu Mazen  understands that the future success, health and welfare of the Palestinian people begins with attacking those who are violent and seek to derail the peace."


    The last time Bush spoke with Arafat on the phone was in June 2001 but later adopted a policy of bypassing him, blaming him for the continuity of violence.


    Bush also conferred with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on the phone and praised Abbas, saying he was “a reformer who will work for peace”, according to Fleischer.


    Abbas’ appointment to head the Palestinian government followed enormous US pressure on Arafat aimed at weakening the Palestinian leader.


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