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Arafat, Israel trade blame for 'road map' troubles

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat says the United States has not done enough to keep the peace plan alive.
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat says the United States has not done enough to keep the peace plan alive.

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RAMALLAH, West Bank (CNN) -- Israeli military action against Palestinian groups has killed the U.S.-backed "road map" to Mideast peace, Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat said.

Arafat's statement in an off-camera interview Tuesday with CNN came as Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz left open the possibility that Israel might move to expel the Palestinian leader.

Arafat said there was no prospect of Palestinian groups resuming a declared cease-fire with Israel.

"The road map is dead, but only because of Israeli military aggression in recent weeks," he said. The interview took place in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

The peace 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.

An Israeli source in Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's office said, "Arafat is the spoiler of the peace process and has become the main obstacle to realizing the road map and Palestinian aspirations."

Arafat also said the United States has not done enough to keep the peace plan alive, suggesting that the U.S. commitment in Iraq or next year's presidential election may be preoccupying the Bush administration.

He downplayed a split between himself and Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, saying the reports have been exaggerated by Israel to create problems within the Palestinian leadership.

Meanwhile, Mofaz said Israel made a historic mistake by not expelling Arafat two years ago, and he left open the possibility Israel might take such action soon.

In an interview with Israel Army Radio, Mofaz said Arafat was an obstacle to Abbas and his attempts to implement the road map.

"Arafat never wanted to reach an agreement with us. I believe that he needs to disappear from the stage of history," Mofaz said.

"The state of Israel made a historic mistake by not expelling him some two years ago. ... As for the future, I believe that we will need to address this matter in a relatively short space of time, very possibly even this year."

He went on to say, "The timing [of expulsion] must be chosen so that it won't hurt the current [Palestinian] leadership and allow them to continue the policies that they proposed, they committed to and we haven't seen results from."

In response, an unidentified opposition Labor Party spokesman told Israel Army Radio that Mofaz was displaying a "lack of national responsibility" with his comments and warned they could result in the Arab world rallying to support the Palestinian leader.

Palestinian youths throw stones at an Israeli bulldozer piling up dirt to block a street near the West Bank town of Nablus.
Palestinian youths throw stones at an Israeli bulldozer piling up dirt to block a street near the West Bank town of Nablus.

Mofaz said the world now recognizes Abbas, Security Affairs Minister Muhammad Dahlan and Finance Minister Salem Fayad as the leaders of the Palestinian people.

Abbas has been under pressure to persuade militants to end attacks on Israeli targets after a June summit with Sharon and President Bush to move the road map ahead.

In Ramallah, a newspaper published by the Palestinian Authority carried a petition signed by 250 academics, politicians and community leaders calling on Arafat and Abbas to settle their differences.

Arafat has retained control over Palestinian uniformed police and has appointed a new security chief.

The United States has said Arafat's refusal to give Abbas control of all Palestinian security is hindering his efforts to move forward on the road map.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has called on Arafat to give Abbas that authority. So far, Arafat has refused.

"Who can take the power away from me? The people. Only the people," Arafat told CNN. "Let there be elections, and we shall see."

Shaul Mofaz
Yasser Arafat

Dahlan, in an interview with the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, said he believed the immediate leadership split would be patched up, but he indicated disagreements are likely to resurface.

Also Tuesday, Palestinians filled the streets of Gaza City as they buried Hamas military activist Khader Housari, 40, killed Monday in an Israeli helicopter attack.

Israel's Cabinet on Monday declared an "all-out war" against Hamas, which -- along with Islamic Jihad -- claimed responsibility for an August 19 terrorist bus bombing in Jerusalem that killed 21 people.

The Cabinet said it also is freezing diplomatic contact with the Palestinian Authority until the Palestinian leadership takes action against terrorists. (Full story)

CNN Correspondent Michael Holmes and Producer Sausan Ghosheh contributed to this report.

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