Last updated at: (Beijing Time) Monday, April 01, 2002

World to Israel: Don't Harm Arafat

World leaders sought guarantees from Israel that Yasser Arafat would not be harmed in its new military offensive, warning Sunday that the siege of the Palestinian leader headquarters could lead to catastrophic consequences.


World leaders sought guarantees from Israel that Yasser Arafat would not be harmed in its new military offensive, warning Sunday that the siege of the Palestinian leader headquarters could lead to catastrophic consequences.

From Asia to the Middle East and Europe, governments issued urgent calls for restraint as Arafat remained trapped inside his West Bank compound and gun battles raged outside between his Palestinian guards and Israeli troops.

Israel has said it has no intention of harming Arafat and instead aims to isolate him as it launches a campaign against militants after a string of Palestinian attacks.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said in an address to his people Sunday that Israel was "at war" and vowed to destroy a "terrorist infrastructure" he said was directed by Arafat.

Arab leaders were not convinced Israel would refrain from harming the Palestinian leader.

If Arafat is harmed, "the resistance will go on because each Palestinian is Yasser Arafat," Crown Prince Abdullah, Saudi Arabia's de facto ruler said Sunday.

"It is not a surprise at all for a man like Sharon, with his known past, to attempt to harm Arafat and our brotherly Palestinian people," he said, according to the state news agency.

Jordan, one of only two nations to have signed a peace accord with Israel, summoned Israel's ambassador Sunday and threatened to take unspecified measures in its ties with Israel unless the action was immediately stopped, said Information Minister Mohammad Affash Adwan.

Morocco's King Mohammed VI telephoned Sharon on Sunday to seek a guarantee that Arafat would not be harmed, a diplomatic official in Rabat told The Associated Press. The king also urged Sharon to halt military operations and respect a UN resolution passed Saturday calling on Israel to withdraw troops from Palestinian cities. Eleven Palestinians and two Israeli soldiers have died in fighting in the West Bank city of Ramallah since Friday.

European nations echoed demands that Israel comply with the resolution, which also calls on both sides to cooperate with US truce efforts.

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said Sunday the escalation of violence risked "a destabilization of the entire region" and urged Israel to guarantee Arafat is not hurt.

"The Palestinian Authority must get back its capacity to act," Fischer said.

China fears "disastrous consequences" for the Middle East "if unexpected incidents took place to Arafat's safety," Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan told his Israeli counterpart, Shimon Peres, in a phone call Sunday.

In the United States, the Rev. Jesse Jackson said the Bush administration should act to rein in Israel, saying the military action was turning world sympathy against the United States.

"It is solidifying most of the Third World against us, and that's not a good thing," he told The Associated Press. "That (anti-terror) coalition we pulled together in September is now against us on this."

US President Bush on Saturday defended Israel's assault on Ramallah, saying it "has a right to defend itself" and said Arafat should do more to stop anti-Israeli attacks.

In the latest anti-Israeli attack, two Palestinian suicide bombers blew themselves up Sunday, killing at least 12 people and wounding more than 40, in separate attacks in the Israeli port city of Haifa and a Jewish West Bank settlement.

Several leaders said that Arafat had no means of halting the spiraling violence while trapped inside his office, where phone lines and electricity have been cut.

"I do not think that Arafat is in a situation where he can manage this," Sweden's Prime Minister Goeran Persson said in a radio interview.

French President Jacques Chirac cautioned both Israelis and Palestinians against a policy of "force and terror."

"I am appalled, appalled by the chain of events and the considerable risk that this represents for the whole region and for all its inhabitants," he said during an interview with TV5.

Pope John Paul II turned his Easter Sunday message into a denunciation of the bloody chain of events that have plunged the Holy Land into "horror and despair."

Summoning up his strength, a frail John Paul made a plea for peace, saying, "No one can remain silent and inactive, no political or religious leader!"

Source: Agencies

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