U.S. stopped Israeli raid to seize Arafat

Monday, September 15, 2003

The United States has prevented Israel's military from capturing the headquarters of Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat.

U.S. government sources said the Bush administration sent a harsh message to Israel to suspend plans to capture Arafat's headquarters in Ramallah over the weekend. The sources said the had military planned to raid the so-called Muqata'a on late Friday and capture Arafat.

Both Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice telephoned Israeli and PA leaders and warned Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to suspend the military plans, Middle East Newsline reported.

The U.S. sources said the Bush administration was alarmed by the Israeli entry into Ramallah on Thursday. An Israeli military force captured a PA ministry about 300 meters from Arafat's headquarters and established a command post for the capture of the Muqata'a.

At that point, the sources said, the administration was informed by the CIA that Israel planned to imminently capture Arafat's headquarters and seize the PA chairman. They said Israel planned to exile Arafat to a distant Arab country.

"The United States does not support either the elimination or the exile of Mr. Arafat," Powell said. "It is not our position and the Israeli government knows this. There would be rage in the Arab world and the Muslim world. And I don't see this moving forward the roadmap."

Powell and Rice sent Israel a message, the sources said, that the United States regards any move to exile Arafat as harmful to Washington's interests in the Middle East, including the roadmap for a Palestinian state. At the same time, U.S. ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer met Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and warned of an international backlash to Arafat's exile.

The sources said the U.S. pressure worked and by Saturday Mofaz ordered the withdrawal of the Israeli military force from Ramallah. At the same time, Powell telephoned PA International Cooperation Minister Nabil Shaath and pledged that Washington will continue to ensure that Arafat is not harmed.

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