Tags: Sharon | Cancels | Arafat-Peres | Meeting

Sharon Cancels Arafat-Peres Meeting

Sunday, 23 September 2001 12:00 AM

Senior Israeli officials said the meeting was called off because of the Palestinian Authority's "refusal to take effective steps against terror."

Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo criticized Sharon's decision. In a statement published in Gaza, he said the Israeli government "is a gang and not responsible government of state."

"If Peres asks for a meeting next time, we'll have to ask him whom do you represent? This shows you cannot trust any promise or agreement the Israelis make," Abed Rabbo added.

"It was already agreed that this meeting is the first of three that would be held between Arafat and Peres only, without a third mediating party," Abed Rabbo told United Press International.

Last week Sharon said a Peres-Arafat meeting could take place after 48 hours of quiet. Fighting continued with mortar bombings, shootings and hand grenades, although not as extensively as in the past.

Sharon has refused to hold negotiations with the Palestinians while fighting is going on, and he has called Arafat "Israel's bin Laden," referring to Saudi fugitive Osama bin Laden, whom the United States considers the No. 1 suspect as the mastermind behind the Sept. 11 terror attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Some of Sharon's right-wing coalition partners have demanded tougher action against the Palestinians. Several ministers said a meeting with Arafat would suggest that he is a legitimate negotiating partner.

Sharon has also been under pressure from his predecessor and possible challenger in the next party elections, Binyamin Netanyahu, to take stronger action against the Palestinians.

Israeli officials said the Palestinians' real attitude was demonstrated in freeing Atef Abayat, whom they allege was involved in Thursday's slaying east of Bethlehem of an Israeli mother of three and injury to her husband.

Israel demanded that the Palestinians arrest Abayat. The Palestinians did so, but later released him.

Israel Radio quoted the head of Palestinian Preventive Security, Col. Jibril Rajoub, as saying Abayat was released because he had no connection with the killing.

The United States has been pushing for a Peres-Arafat meeting in hopes of reducing Israeli-Palestinian tension, which could contribute to gaining the United States support from Muslims and Arabs for a global anti-terrorism campaign.

Peres on Friday indicated that he would meet Arafat as early as Sunday unless the security situation deteriorated..

Saturday night, Peres met the speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council, Ahmad Qurei (Abu Alla), and Local Governance Minister Saeb Erakat to finalize preparations for Sunday's meeting, including the text of a joint statement.

"The success of this meeting depends on setting a clear and committed timetable to implement the Mitchell report with the United States, Europeans and others... to break the cycle of violence," said Abed Rabbo.

Sunday morning, several Israeli ministers demanded cancellation of the Peres-Arafat meeting. Israel Radio said Minister Avigdor Liberman of the hawkish National Unity faction threatened to bolt the coalition if the meeting is held, but Liberman's political adviser Edward Baleo told UPI he was not aware of such a threat.

Peres said the United States had been supportive in helping others in times of danger "and now when the United States is in danger, one must stand up with it."

In Israel's 53-year history, the United States has responded to all of Israel's requests and now it is asking Israel for a meeting, Peres said.

"The United States is not asking Israel to make territorial concessions or forgo the right of self-defense, just an Israeli contribution to change the atmosphere before it sends its sons to battle," Peres said.

Peres did not join Sunday's morning's Cabinet meeting and summoned the other ministers of his Labor Party to consultations at his office.

When a well-placed party source was asked whether Israel was heading toward a coalition crisis, the source said attempts were under way to prevent it.

Copyright 2001 by United Press International. All rights reserved.

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Senior Israeli officials said the meeting was called off because of the Palestinian Authority's refusal to take effective steps against terror. Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo criticized Sharon's decision. In a statement published in Gaza, he said the...
Sunday, 23 September 2001 12:00 AM
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