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Israel: Arafat harboring terror cell that struck during Powell visit

Special to World
Monday, May 19, 2003

TEL AVIV Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat has provided safe haven for an insurgency cell that has staged a series of attacks on Israeli motorists in the West Bank.

Israeli officials said Arafat has financed and approved the attacks by a cell composed of his bodyguards and members of PA security forces. They said the cell was responsible for the shooting death of an Israeli on Sunday northeast of Ramallah near the Israeli community of Ofra and during the visit by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell.

The cell was said to belong to the Arafat-sponsored Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade and has been based in Arafat's headquarters in Ramallah, officials said. They said the cell killed the Israeli on Sunday in an ambush and returned to Arafat's office to avoid Israeli capture.

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Last year, Israel maintained a siege of Arafat's headquarters in Ramallah for several months. Amid heavy international pressure, Israel lifted the siege but has not permitted Arafat to leave the area.

Officials said 17 Palestinian insurgents wanted by Israel have been given safe haven in Arafat's offices. They include members of his Force 17 praetorian guard and Military Intelligence, the latter headed by the PA chairman's nephew, Mussa Arafat.

"The terrorist activity of all operatives from the Mukata'a [Arafat's headquarters] is carried out with the knowledge and approval of chairman Arafat," an Israeli official said.

Officials said Arafat has ordered new attacks on Israelis in an effort to undermine the authority of new Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas. Abbas has called for a dismantling of Palestinian insurgency groups but officials said he does not intend to confront them.

On Tuesday, eight Israeli soldiers were injured in a Palestinian mortar strike. Israeli military sources said Palestinian gunners fired mortars at an Israeli base in the northern Gaza Strip.

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