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U.S. urging Arab leaders to pressure Arafat

From Elise Labott
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Bush administration is urging Arab leaders to put more pressure on Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat to crack down on terrorist activity, as the administration weighs its own next steps in dealing with him.

The Bush administration has asked Arab leaders not to invite Arafat to Arab League summits, to suspend bilateral meetings with him, to curtail public criticism of the United States and to increase calls on Arafat to take action, they said.

Bush spoke with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Monday, where he voiced his disappointment in Arafat. On Friday, he will meet with Jordan's King Abdullah.

U.S. allies in the Arab world have in recent days publicly called on the United States to resume a senior-level mediating role between the Israelis and Palestinians.

U.S. officials say that leaders in Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia have voiced concern to the Bush administration that a disengagement by the United States would harm the peace process and the stability of the region.

"They don't feel at all comfortable," one official said, noting that Arab leaders would be subject to internal political pressure if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were to spiral out of control.

But another official said that the "public rhetoric does not match what people are saying in private" and that the administration is "not getting that loud of a crescendo of complaints."

In another development, Israeli forces Tuesday arrested a senior Islamic Jihad activist and two other Palestinians suspected of terrorist activity in the West Bank village of Irthas, south of Bethlehem, according to the Israel Defense Forces.

Jerusalem police said six houses and two cars were damaged Tuesday morning by Palestinian fire from the West Bank town of Beit Jalla on the Jewish neighborhood of Gilo on the outskirts of Jerusalem.

On Sunday, a bombing in west Jerusalem killed an 81-year-old Israeli, as well as the suspected bomber and injured more than 110 people. It was the second attack in the same area in less than a week.

Last weekend's violence were the latest developments in a recent upsurge in the region that has seen increased attacks by Palestinian militants against Israeli soldiers and civilians followed by retaliatory strikes by Israel. Political relations between the two sides were further strained by the discovery of a shipload of missiles and other arms that Israel says was destined for the Palestinians.

In recent days, Arafat has been told that unless he takes steps to crack down on terrorist activity in the Palestinian territories, the Bush administration will not send U.S. envoy Anthony Zinni to resume negotiations between the two parties.

The warning comes amid a debate within the administration on whether to suspend relations with Arafat and the Palestinian Authority as punishment for what officials see as inaction against terrorism.

"There's no question that the requirement is on Arafat right now to take strong and irreversible action," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Monday, adding that the Bush administration is "reviewing what our policy, what the next steps ought to be."

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The United States wants Arafat to provide an explanation for a ship, the Karin-A, which was carrying 50 tons of weapons when it was intercepted by Israel earlier this month in the Red Sea, apparently en route from Iran to the Palestinian territories. The Bush administration has demanded that Arafat arrest those responsible for the arms shipment, even if it implicates some of his top deputies.

"We need to see some painful moves," one official said. "One arrest is not going to cut it."

Monday, Arafat took the recommendations of a Palestinian committee investigating the arms shipment and removed Brig. Gen. Fouad al-Shoubaki from his position in charge of military financial affairs. He was already under detention.

Arrest warrants were issued for Col. Fathi al-Razem and Adel Awadallah, who are currently outside the country, in connection with the investigation. Al-Razem was dismissed from his position as deputy chief of the Palestinian naval police.

Arafat has denied any involvement in the incident. But in an interview Monday with CNN, Vice President Dick Cheney said the Bush administration believes "people very close" to Arafat were involved in the failed arms shipment, which he said makes it "difficult to take him seriously as an interlocutor in that peace process."

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Another administration official told CNN Monday that "there is enough evidence that Arafat either knew about it, or willingly ignored what was going on under his nose, which proves he is in abhorrent neglect of his responsibilities" as the leader of the Palestinian Authority.

Arafat was given a list of steps he must take earlier this month by Zinni, before he returned to Washington, administration officials said.

Those steps include taking greater security measures to prevent terrorist attacks against Israel, using his security forces to foil planned terrorist attacks, cracking down on the infrastructure of terrorist groups, closing down factories in the Palestinian territories which manufacture mortar shells and other weapons for use against Israel, and arresting a list of terrorist leaders believed involved in committing attacks against Israel.

"It is not a puzzle," one official said. "He knows what he has to do. We have told him many, many times."

On Thursday, Assistant Secretary of State William Burns will meet with the Middle East envoys from Russia, the United Nations and the European Union in Washington, a senior State Department official said.

Andrei Vdovin of Russia, Terje Roed-Larsen of the United Nations and Miguel Angel Moratinos of the European Union are also expected to ask the Bush administration to resume high-level mediation between Israel and the Palestinians.




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