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International

Arafat orders end to attacks

By Kesava Menon

Manama (Bahrain) May 8. The Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, ordered his security forces to prevent "all terrorist operations" against Israelis after a suicide bomber killed 15 persons and himself in an attack in the industrial town of Rishon Letzion, near Tel Aviv.

Mr. Arafat condemned the attack as the Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, flew back to Israel for an emergency cabinet meeting after cutting short a visit to the United States. Mr. Sharon is expected to press for tough retaliatory action, including the expulsion of Mr. Arafat, despite a strong condemnatory statement by the latter.

Last night's explosion took place in a third floor billiards hall packed with people. A man carrying a briefcase filled with explosives and metal scrap is reported to have blown himself up in an explosion which was so powerful that it blew away the walls outside the hall and tossed up a refrigerator several feel across the road. Most of the victims are reported to be middle-aged or elderly.

Hamas is reported to have claimed responsibility for the attack. Earlier, a Hamas political activist, while stating that he could not confirm whether his organisation had indeed carried out the operation, boasted that the attack showed that the Palestinian resistance had not been broken despite the month-long Israeli military operations. Officials of the Palestinian Authority privately told the Israeli media that they were furious with Hamas.

The statement of condemnation issued by the Palestinian Authority is unprecedentedly strong and the Authority will do itself a world of good if it arrests those behind the blast. This brutal and short-sighted action by Palestinian extremists has played right into the hands of Mr. Sharon. The Israeli Prime Minister had set a series of staggered objectives for his Washington visit. He had initially hoped for U.S. support for his declared aim of deposing Mr. Arafat and replacing him with what he calls a more moderate leadership. Since senior U.S. officials declared on the eve of his visit that they were not interested in supporting such plans (at least for now), Mr. Sharon moved to the lesser objective of making the Palestinian Authority more "transparent and democratic".

The U.S. appeared to have agreed to support Mr. Sharon with Mr. Bush saying that his CIA chief, George Tenet, will go to West Asia to help integrate the multiple security services of the Authority. Mr. Bush also said that the U.S. wanted the PA to be more accountable. No one, least of all, ordinary Palestinians, would object if their Authority did become more accountable. But the welfare of the Palestinians never has been much of a priority for Mr. Sharon.

In asking for the reform of the PA before engaging it in political negotiations, Mr. Sharon's objective appears to be the extension of Israel's occupation of the Palestinian territory. Mr. Sharon can after all continue to insist that the PA has not reformed itself enough even if an autocrat like Mr. Arafat does somehow initiate a process of reform. Now with the suicide bombing, Mr. Sharon can hope to revive his original objective of deposing Mr. Arafat and sending him into exile.

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