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Fatah claims credit for attack; Israel threatens to deport Arafat

SPECIAL TO WORLD TRIBUNE.COM
Tuesday, May 20, 2003

TEL AVIV Fatah, the ruling Palestinian movement led by Yasser Arafat has claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing in which at least three Israelis were killed and more than 70 wounded.

It was the fourth suicide attack against Israeli targets in less than three days. Both Fatah and the Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility in what officials said was a joint operation.

Arafat and the Palestinian Authority condemned the bombing while the Israeli government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon debated its response to the crisis.

Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said Israel might end up expelling Arafat if he continues to foil efforts by PA Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas to end the insurgency war. Officials said Arafat has managed to ensure that Abbas, or Abu Mazen, remains bereft of any authority over PA security agencies.

"At this stage it would be wrong to expel Arafat, because the world would see this as if Israel was torpedoing the [peace] process, and Abu Mazen was collaborating with Israel," Mofaz said in an address to Tel Aviv University. "If Arafat continues to act as a main obstacle to the process, and, at the same time, Abu Mazen remains willing to battle terrorist organizations, then there will be no alternative but to consider steps to deport Arafat in the future."

On Monday, a Palestinian suicide bomber blew himself up at the entrance of a crowded shopping mall in the northern city of Afula.

Authorities said a security guard struggled with the attacker, who tried to enter the Afula shopping mall. During the struggle, the Palestinian, identified as a 19-year-old woman from the West Bank village of Tubas, blew herself up.

At first, Islamic groups claimed credit for the suicide strike. Hamas spokesman Abdul Aziz Rentisi said the attack pointed to his movement's success in foiling Israeli security measures over the last 48 hours. They included a closure of the West Bank as well as military operations in several Palestinian cities.

Later, Islamic Jihad and the Fatah-dominated Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade claimed responsibility.

So far, 12 Israelis have been killed in the latest wave of bombings. Israeli officials said the bombs used in the attack were composed of advanced explosives rarely seen in recent suicide bombings.

The Sharon government has struggled to form a response to the Hamas campaign. Sharon has ruled out the prospect of expelling Arafat, chairman of the PA, despite the assertion by Israeli security officials that he approved the latest attacks.

Meanwhile, Al Qaida-linked insurgents fought combatants of the ruling Fatah movement in the increasingly bloody battle for control of the Palestinian community in Lebanon.

Eight people were killed and 25 were wounded in battles between the Al Qaida-linked insurgents and Fatah in the Ein Hilwe refugee camp on Monday. Six of the casualties were members of the Fatah faction, which control the Palestinian refugee camp outside the city of Sidon.

Palestinian sources said gunmen from Usbat Al Ansar and the splinter Usbat Al Nur attacked a Fatah stronghold in Ein Hilwe to avenge what they termed was an attempted assassination on Usbat chief Abdullah Shraidi. The sources said the two sides employed automatic fire and shoulder-fired anti-tank weapons in the five-hour battle.

About 200 Usbat insurgents attacked Fatah offices, the sources said. Many passersby were injured while others fled Ein Hilwe, the largest refugee camp in Lebanon with a population of close to 75,000.

Lebanese troops were stationed at the entrance of Ein Hilwe. But under Syrian orders the Lebanese troops did not enter the camp.

In 2000, the Usbat groups were said to have led a revolt against Lebanese and Syrian authorities in northern Lebanon. Lebanese forces quelled the rebellion and some of the Usbat insurgents fled to Ein Hilwe.

Farther south, Hizbullah gunners launched anti-aircraft fire toward towns in northern Israel. A fire broke out in the Israeli city of Kiryat Shmoneh from an artillery shell. Nobody was injured.

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