Israeli official: Killing Arafat is option
Palestinians gather in Ramallah to support president
RAMALLAH, West Bank (CNN) -- Israel's vice prime minister said Sunday that killing Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat is an option.
"From a fundamental, moral point of view, I want to put this question to every man of conscience," Vice Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told CNN. "How many more civilians must be killed ... before someone will come and say, 'Hey, let's stop the man who has been responsible for all of this?' "
The Israeli Security Cabinet decided in principle last week to remove Arafat, calling him an obstacle to peace, but provided no specifics about how that would be accomplished.
Reacting to Olmert's comments, Palestinian minister Saeb Erakat told CNN Radio that the Israeli government was behaving "like gangsters."
"Nation-states should not act in the way of blackmail, extortion, assassinations ... nation-states must adhere to the rule of law," he said. "I believe [what] the Israeli government is doing now is not the action of nations anymore, it's like gangsters."
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell cautioned against killing or exiling Arafat.
"We think it would create a great deal of difficulty in the region. You're just putting him on another stage somewhere else," Powell said on CNN's "Late Edition."
"What we really need to see is for the new prime minister ... to make sure he gets the political authority he needs from the Palestinian Council and Mr. Arafat," Powell said.
"Only then can he go after the terrorist organizations ... that are killing the dreams of the Palestinian people."
But Olmert said Arafat "is head of a murder operation which has been addressed against innocent people time and again in the streets of our cities.
"Everyone knows he is the inspirator and supporter of all those organizations that are perpetrating these atrocities, so something must be done," he said.
For a third consecutive day, crowds of Palestinians gathered Sunday outside Arafat's compound, showing support for the confined leader.
Tensions between the Israelis and Palestinians have heightened in recent weeks after a string of Palestinian terror attacks against Israelis and deadly Israeli strikes on Palestinian extremist group members that also have killed and wounded Palestinian bystanders.
Two Hamas terrorist bombings Tuesday killed 15 Israelis, followed a day later by an Israeli airstrike that wounded Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar. The attack also killed Zahar's son and a bodyguard, and wounded at least 20 others.
Hamas, a Palestinian Islamic fundamentalist group, is designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department. Its military wing, Izzedine al Qassam, has admitted responsibility for terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians as well as attacks against the Israeli military.
The Palestinian Authority has struggled for months to resolve an internal crisis. Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas quit a week ago, and Arafat named parliamentary speaker Ahmed Qorei, a longtime Arafat ally, to replace Abbas. Qorei's nomination must be approved by the Palestinian parliament.
An Arafat aide said Thursday that the authority also plans to consolidate its security apparatus under Arafat, not Qorei. During his four months in office, Abbas was in a power struggle with Arafat, particularly over control of security forces to rein in militants conducting terror attacks against Israeli civilians.
Elsewhere Sunday, Israeli troops shot a teenage Palestinian boy who was among a group of people trying to break into a high-security facility north of Jerusalem, the Israel Defense Forces said.
Palestinian hospital officials and the Red Crescent Society said the boy, identified as Ahmed Naef Abu Lapfe, died in the incident, which happened at Atarot airfield in northern Jerusalem, near the Kalandia refugee camp in the West Bank.
The IDF said the teen was among at least five Palestinians who created an opening in the outer security fence at the airfield and were heading to the second security fence when troops warned them to stop.
The group did not heed the warning, so the troops shot at them, later finding that the teen was struck. The others with him got away, the IDF said.
The IDF said officials were investigating the incident and regretted any loss of civilian life, but said the troops were acting in self-defense.
The IDF also announced the arrest of a bomb expert it said is from the Tanzim militia, a militant wing of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement.
The IDF said he was responsible for attacks in Kfar Saba and Ra'anana, both north of Tel Aviv, and Rosh Ha'ayin, east of Tel Aviv.
CNN's Jerrold Kessel, Ninette Sosa, Dana Rosenblatt and Stephanie Halasz contributed to this report.