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Arafat: 'Completely stop' attacks on Israelis

Arafat: "Targeting civilians, whether they are Israelis or Palestinians, is a deplorable act."  

RAMALLAH, West Bank (CNN) -- Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat late Wednesday urged Palestinians to "completely stop" attacks against Israelis, saying the attacks are not a "legitimate resistance" to Israeli occupation and that Israel uses them as a pretext to invade Palestinian territories.

Arafat released the statement after the second suicide attack in two days against Israelis in Jerusalem. Six Israelis were killed in the attack Wednesday; 19 Israelis were killed in the Tuesday bombing. (More on latest attack)

"I have to be honest with you for the need to completely stop these attacks that have been condemned repeatedly by the Palestinian leadership," Arafat said in the statement, written in Arabic and delivered to the Palestinian news agency WAFA.

"Targeting civilians, whether they are Israelis or Palestinians, is a deplorable act."

The statement continued: "I declare from the stance of my duties to safeguard our people, their land and their future, my complete condemnation of any attack that targets Israeli civilians.

"These attacks are not connected to our legitimate resistance to the Israeli occupation, and our right to defend our existence and our holy sites and our land in the face of the settlement danger."

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The Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade claimed responsibility for the attack, sources said. The group, a military offshoot of Arafat's Fatah movement, has been designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department.

In response, Israeli helicopter gunships fired on targets in Gaza, including the city of Gaza and the Jabaliya and Khan Yunis refugee camps. At least 13 people were reported wounded by shrapnel in Gaza City, hospital sources said.

Israel announced a shift in policy after Tuesday's terror attack, saying it would seize Palestinian land and hold it "as long as terror continues" against Israelis. (Statement)

In condemning attacks against Israelis, Arafat said, "These attacks have given the Israeli government the pretext -- and they use it to invade our land and kill and injure and wound tens of thousands of our people, and to destroy what the people and the Palestinian Authority have built over the last eight years and to destroy our institutions, our cities, our refugee camps and our villages."

Arafat said it was important to stop such attacks, "especially as the whole world today is united behind our people's right to get its land back and to establish an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.

"There are those who are trying to obstruct this goal," he said.

In Washington, President Bush's speech laying out his vision for the Middle East -- including some form of Palestinian statehood -- was "on hold" because of the latest suicide bombing, the White House said. The speech had been planned for later this week, possibly Thursday. (Full story)

In a related development, Palestinian sources said the Palestinian Authority was dropping its demand for the right of return for Palestinian refugees -- one of the major stumbling blocks to a Middle East peace deal. (Full story)




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