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Tuesday, 2 April, 2002, 13:53 GMT 14:53 UK
Israel considers exiling Arafat
Yasser Arafat
Arafat: "Under no circumstances" will accept exile
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has said he will not rule out the possibility of exiling Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

"On the advice of intelligence service officials, the cabinet decided to isolate Arafat and not to expel him, and I am not sure that they did the right thing," Mr Sharon said, quoted by Israel radio.

Sending (Arafat) into exile will just give him another place from which to conduct the same kinds of activities and give the same messages that he is giving now

Colin Powell
He said that if Mr Arafat were allowed to leave the Palestinian territories, "it would have to be a one-way ticket."

However, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres told the BBC that he was one of those in the cabinet who voted against exile, saying "I am against using any force to impose upon Arafat his place of stay."

And US Secretary of State Colin Powell said exiling Mr Arafat would not help the peace process as the Palestinian leader still "has a role to play."

"Sending him into exile will just give him another place from which to conduct the same kinds of activities and give the same messages that he is giving now," Mr Powell said.

"So unless he decides that he is going to leave the country, it seems to me that we need to work with him where he is - and where he is, is Ramallah."

Assassination fear

Senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, speaking to the BBC, declared that Mr Arafat would "under no circumstances" accept exile, and said he feared that that Mr Arafat would be assassinated if this occurred.

Israeli tank outside of Arafat's compound in Ramallah
Arafat is confined to his Ramallah compound

"We cannot go into exile," he said.

"I think Sharon will kill us."

During a tour of army bases in the West Bank, Mr Sharon said he was asked by European Union envoy Miguel Moratinos whether Mr Arafat would be able to leave Ramallah.

"I told him, if (European diplomats) would like, they will fly here with a helicopter and take (Mr Arafat) from here," said Mr Sharon, in remarks carried by Israel radio.

"First I would have to bring this to the Cabinet, second he can't take anyone with him, the murderers who are located around him there, and the third thing is that it would have to be a one-way ticket."

Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz reported that Mr Peres had also discussed possible exile arrangements with Egyptian officials but they had rejected the plan.

Mr Peres's office denied that such talks had taken place with Egypt.

Domestic pressures

The question of what to do with the Palestinian leader, whose compound was invaded by Israeli troops on Friday, has been a pressing one, and BBC correspondents say the talk of expulsion is most likely the result of domestic political pressures in Israel.

Mr Sharon has come under increasing pressure from within his own Likud party to expel the Palestinian leader as attacks against Israeli civilians have continued.

Such recent comments may be seen as an attempt to mollify criticism of his performance.

But if he does move against the Palestinian leader he is likely to anger the American administration, as well as enrage neighbouring Arab regimes.

It would also most likely cause his Labour party partners, such as Mr Peres, to leave the coalition, causing chaos within Israeli politics.

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See also:

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01 Apr 02 | Middle East
Israeli papers demand clearer goals
01 Apr 02 | Asia-Pacific
Israel 'dragging Mid-East into war'
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02 Apr 02 | Middle East
Israel's history of bomb blasts
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