Arafat beefs up security, anticipates Israeli arrest

Friday, September 12, 2003

RAMALLAH Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat has prepared for the prospect of an Israeli military operation to capture his headquarters and exile him.

Palestinian sources said Arafat has ordered security at the Muqata'a, or his PA headquarters, to be reinforced over the last two days. The sources said this has included additional PA troops and weapons brought in and around the Muqata'a complex in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

On Thursday, the Israeli Cabinet voted to expel Arafat. The decision did not set a timetable and officials said this would depend on political and operational conditions, Middle East Newsline reported.

"Events of recent days have reiterated and proven again that Yasser Arafat is a complete obstacle to any process of reconciliation between Israel and the Palestinians," an Israeli Cabinet communique said on late Thursday. "Israel will work to remove this obstacle in a manner, and at a time, of its choosing."

But Arafat was said to have been alarmed by the Israeli decision. The sources said Arafat and his aides ordered massive rallies in support of the PA chairman, the first of which took place in the northern West Bank city of Nablus. In addition, Arafat telephoned Arab and Western leaders to appeal for their support.

The European Union, the United States and Russia have expressed their opposition to the Israeli expulsion of Arafat. On Friday, U.S. ambassador to Israel, Daniel Kurtzer, met Israeli Defense Shaul Mofaz to relay Washington's objections to plans to expel Arafat.

"We think it would not be helpful to expel him because it would just give him another stage to play on," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said on Thursday.

Still, Israel's military has stepped up preparations for the capture of Arafat. An Israeli military force captured a PA ministry office about 300 meters from the Muqata'a complex in Ramallah and has been establishing what appears to be a command post.

Israeli military sources said Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Moshe Ya'alon has presented to Sharon a plan to capture Arafat alive. In April 2002, Israel's military seized the Muqata'a but did not capture Arafat who had threatened to kill himself.

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