Monday, Feb 25, 2002
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By Kesava Menon
Manama (Bahrain) Feb. 24. The Palestinian Authority President, Mr. Yasser Arafat, has been released from confinement inside his compound in Ramallah but is still banned from leaving the municipal limits of the West Bank town.
Israeli and Palestinian security officials have also agreed on several measures to ease the confrontation and these tentative measures appear to be still on track despite several incidents of violence over the weekend. These recent developments mark the most recent up in what has been a rapid roller-coaster ride in the interaction between the two sides over the past 16 months.
The decision to allow Mr. Arafat to move outside his Ramallah compound was taken through a majority vote at a meeting of Israel's security Cabinet today. Mr. Arafat had been unable to move out of the compound after Israel sent its tanks to surround it from a few hundred metres distance. Israel was expected to move back its tanks from the positions they have been near the compound.
However, Mr. Arafat will need to ask for and receive clearance from Israel before he can leave Ramallah. The leading Palestinian negotiator, Saeeb Eerekat, who like his colleagues in the Palestinian Authority, has been infuriated over this prolonged humiliation of their leader, has described as "shameless'' the Israeli Cabinet's decision. Palestinian security chiefs have also decided to stay away from a meeting, scheduled for later on Sunday, with their Israeli counterparts, in protest against the decision.
Israel's decision to change the conditions of Mr. Arafat's confinement from house arrest to a form of ``town arrest'' is no doubt deeply humiliating and infuriating for the Palestinians. But despite their statements and shows of protest, the Palestinian Authority seems to be seriously working to ease the situation. Mr. Arafat has ordered the arrest of three men suspected of involvement in the killing of the former Israeli Tourism Minister, Revaham Ze'evi, in October last year as also the arrest of a leading Palestinian Authority official suspected of involvement in an arms shipment. These actions taken by the Palestinian Authority were cited in the Israeli Cabinet meeting by those pressing for easing the pressure on the Palestinians. With Israel having taken the decision on Mr. Arafat today, it would appear that the latest tentative search for an easing of tensions is still on track. Last Thursday, Israeli and Palestinian Authority security chiefs met and agreed on a number of steps. From the Israeli side this included a commitment to not subject Palestinian Authority security installations to aerial bombardment, to withdraw from territories that have been handed to full Palestinian control and to stop its policy of assassinating wanted Palestinians.
The easing of road blocks around Palestinian towns and some other measures to make travel easier during the on-going Eid holidays are also on the cards.The Palestinian Authority has committed to taking stronger measures against militant groups. Israel's decision of Sunday seems to show that the several incidents of violence during the week-end has not, at least thus far, led to the collapse of this latest agreement.
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