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Israel increase pressure arafat { May 19 2003 }

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Last Updated: Monday, 19 May, 2003, 10:05 GMT 11:05 UK
Israel puts squeeze on Arafat

Israel has increased the pressure on the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, following Sunday's suicide attacks which left nine people dead in Jerusalem, including two bombers.

Foreign diplomats and visiting politicians will be banned from seeing Israeli officials if they intend to meet Mr Arafat, the government said.

Israel also sealed its borders with the West Bank and Gaza Strip, barring Palestinians from entering the Jewish state.

On Monday, a Palestinian suicide bomber on a bicycle blew himself up next to an army patrol in the Gaza Strip, slightly wounding three soldiers, Israeli military sources said.

The attack, near the Jewish settlement of Kfar Darom in central Gaza, came a day after back-to-back suicide bombings in Jerusalem, one of which killed seven people on a bus.

The latest violence puts a severe strain on a US-sponsored peace plan, known as the roadmap, only a week after it was officially unveiled.

Security intensified

The closure of borders will affect thousands of Palestinians with jobs in Israel.

Phase 1 (to May 2003): End of terrorism, normalisation of Palestinian life and Palestinian political reform; Israeli withdrawal and end of settlement activity; Palestinian elections
Phase 2: (June-Dec 2003) Creation of an independent Palestinian state; international conference and international monitoring of compliance with roadmap
Phase 3 (2004-2005): Second international conference; permanent status agreement and end of conflict; agreement on final borders, Jerusalem, refugees and settlements; Arab states to agree to peace deals with Israel

The BBC Jerusalem correspondent, James Reynolds, says that in practice, such a move often means that Israeli forces encircle Palestinian towns and prevent anyone from leaving.

United Nations agencies and non-governmental organisations in the Gaza Strip have accused Israel of breaking international law by imposing entry and exit restrictions on international staff working there.

Israel said it introduced the measures to increase checks on foreign nationals entering Gaza. A suicide bomber and his suspected accomplice, who both held British passports, came from Gaza before they staged an attack in the Israeli city of Tel Aviv.

UN bodies, including the World Food Programme and the World Health Organization, said some of their members might have to stop work in the Gaza Strip.

On Monday, Israeli officials confirmed that a body found on Tel Aviv beach 11 days after the 30 April attack on a Tel Aviv pub was that of British suicide bombing suspect, Omar Khan Sharif.

Sharif, whose explosives reportedly failed to detonate, fled the scene after his accomplice, Assif Mohammed Hanif, blew himself up, killing three people.

Expulsion mooted

Israeli ministers and security officials held emergency meetings to discuss the response to the attacks on Sunday.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is said to have opposed a proposal from some of his ministers to expel Mr Arafat.

Israel says the Palestinian leader is ultimately to blame for the upsurge of violence.

Israeli leaders accuse Mr Arafat of inciting suicide attacks, even if he publicly supports the international peace plan.

Mr Sharon delayed his scheduled departure for talks in Washington because of the Jerusalem blasts, which came just hours after he met his Palestinian counterpart Mahmoud Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen. It was the highest-level contact between the two sides for more than two years.

An Israeli spokesman said that Israel would press on with talks with the new Palestinian prime minister.

Israel is demanding an end to attacks before it will consider implementation of the roadmap, which envisages a Palestinian state.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2003/05/19 10:05:50 GMT


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