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Erakat: Arafat would not survive expulsion attempt

U.S. concerned conflict would 'blow up wide open'

Yasser Arafat flashes a victory sign to supporters while entering his compound after Friday prayers in Ramallah.
Yasser Arafat flashes a victory sign to supporters while entering his compound after Friday prayers in Ramallah.

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International concern at Israel's threat to exile Yasser Arafat.
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CNN's Matthew Chance reports on Palestinian shows of support for Arafat.
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RAMALLAH, West Bank (CNN) -- Lead Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat on Friday said he believes Yasser Arafat would not survive any Israeli attempt to remove him from his compound in Ramallah where he is confined.

"I am sure, if they attempt this, the men will defend him, there will be a shootout and in the end they will end up killing him," Erakat told CNN in a phone interview.

Erakat, who had just returned from a meeting at Arafat's compound, said the Palestinian leader said "he will not accept to be deported and he will not accept to be arrested."

"I think it's very clear cut, it means that they will kill him, that's the end result," he said.

Erakat spoke one day after Israel announced its intention to "remove" Arafat, calling him an "obstacle" to peace.

Ra'anan Gissin, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, denied that the Security Cabinet decision meant Israel would forcibly remove Arafat from Ramallah.

"It doesn't mean that. The Cabinet has ... resolved to remove this obstacle," Gissin said Thursday.

"The time, method -- the ways by which this will take place -- will be decided separately, and the security services will continue to monitor the situation and make the recommendation about the proper action as they have done in the past."

Throughout the West Bank and Gaza, thousands of Palestinian demonstrators opposing the Israeli decision staged protests, including a steady show of grass-roots support in front of Arafat's compound.

Meanwhile, top Palestinian officials Friday translated their own outrage into sober-headed diplomacy, with the newly formed Palestinian National Security Council convening to discuss how to deal with Israel's move.

Nabil Shaath, the acting Palestinian foreign minister, told CNN that officials will take a diplomatic tack, urging the international community to oppose the move.

"We don't have tanks. We don't have F-16s. We can't take a military route," Shaath said.

Calls for restraint

Across the globe, world leaders and diplomats called for Israeli restraint.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said expelling Arafat would be "unwise," and the Security Council deemed it "unhelpful" and said it should not be implemented.

The U.N. Security Council statement came after closed consultations on an Arab group draft resolution demanding that Israel back down from its threat to "remove" Arafat.

The Arab League called the action a declaration of war on Middle East peace.

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The Bush administration -- concerned the expulsion of Arafat would crush efforts to make peace in the Middle East -- is pressuring Israel not to expel him, State Department officials said.

"We worry this would blow up wide open," one official said. "It would have serious repercussions, not only in the Palestinian territories, but also throughout the region and with efforts to make peace."

The U.S. officials said Secretary of State Colin Powell worked the phones Friday, speaking with Israeli, Palestinian and Arab foreign ministers.

Shaath later said Powell told him he would make sure Israel would not follow through on the threat. CNN was trying to confirm Shaath's claim.

Powell urged both Palestinian and Israeli officials that the parties need to get back to meeting their commitments to the U.S.-backed "road map" for Middle East peace, a U.S. official said.

The Israeli policy statement is the latest in series of incidents this summer that have cast a shadow over the chances for success of that plan.

The road map appears buried under repeated Palestinian terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians and Israeli strikes on Palestinian extremist group members that also have killed and injured bystanders.

The plan -- backed by the United States, United Nations, European Union and Russia -- aims to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and establish an independent Palestinian state by 2005.

The Palestinian council, which met twice Friday and is expected to meet over the weekend, began creating a framework for consolidating its security apparatus.

CNN Correspondents Matthew Chance and Producer Sausan Ghosheh contributed to this report


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