Arafat accuses Israel of using poison gas
GAZA (CNN) - Intensifying his criticism, Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat on Thursday accused Israel of using poison gas, adding to his accusations that it employed depleted uranium munitions against Palestinian demonstrators.
In a statement on its Web site, the Israel Defense Forces called the accusation "despicable lies."
"The IDF has not and does not use gas during the fighting," the army said.
Arafat, returning to Gaza after a trip to Turkey, welcomed an appeal by U.S. President George W. Bush for both sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to take steps to restore calm, but said Bush should consider the whole story.
"We don't use poison gas and we don't use helicopters or missiles or tanks or airplanes," Arafat said. "But this is a dangerous escalation that the Israeli government and army is carrying out."
Palestinians to have gas sample tested
Israeli officials firmly denied that the army was using poison gas, as they had denied the use of depleted uranium (DU) ammunition when Arafat made the accusation last month shortly after international investigators warned of a possible link between DU use and cancer.
DU is used in anti-tank shells and is prized for its ability to penetrate armor. Yugoslav doctors, investigating use of the weapons during a decade of war in the Balkans, said they had connected cancer in dozens of Bosnia Serbs with the uranium.
NATO and U.S. officials denied the connection.
Arafat's latest accusation stemmed from reports on Tuesday and Wednesday that about 80 Palestinians had been admitted to a Gaza hospital suffering from the effects of poison gas. The Palestinians said that Israeli soldiers had used the gas against them during a demonstration near the Khan Younis refugee camp.
Israeli Communications Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer said on Israeli TV that the reports were "incorrect and false."
But Palestinian Cabinet minister Nabil Shaath said that the Palestinians planned to send a sample of the gas to an international center for analysis. He did not elaborate.
U.N. team wants Israeli cooperation
Meanwhile, a U.N. team investigating allegations of human rights abuses by the Israelis in the Palestinian territories met on Thursday with Palestinian Labor Minister Rafik Natche.
South African John Dugard, head of the U.N. Human Rights Commission team, said that the commission had been pleased so far with level of assistance provided by the Palestinians, but not so with that coming from Israel.
"We have been able to collect info from the Palestinian side very easily, but we are worried about the failure of the Israeli government to cooperate with us," Dugard said. "We have called upon the Israeli government again . . . to assist us by providing evidence."
Israeli objects to the investigative team, charged with looking into complaints about Israel's handling of the five-month-long uprising. High on the team's agenda is Israel's policy of targeting Palestinians they believe are responsible for or planning attacks on Israeli citizens and soldiers.
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