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Sunday, January 31, 1999 Published at 22:24 GMT

World: Middle East

Arafat says statehood date 'sacred'

Yasser Arafat and Kofi Annan in Davos

Yasser Arafat has warned world leaders the target date of 4 May for a declaration of Palestinian statehood is "sacred".

Middle East

The Palestinian leader was speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, as the 31 January deadline for the full implementation of October's Wye River agreement passed.

Paul Royal reports on the state of the land for peace deal
As part of the Wye River deal the Israelis agreed to release 750 Palestinians from their jails and withdraw from 13% of the West Bank.

[ image: Palestinians have been demanding the release of political prisoners]
Palestinians have been demanding the release of political prisoners
In return the Palestinians undertook to take action against militants in the occupied territories, in co-operation with the CIA and the Israeli Government.

The Israeli Government effectively suspended the Wye River agreement in December when it refused to carry out a second military withdrawal from the West Bank

Jails still bulging

Over 200 prisoners were released but the Palestinian authorities complained that criminals were released instead of political prisoners.

The Israeli Government says the Palestinians are not implementing the security measures which had been discussed at the Wye Plantation.

Attempts by the US to get the Israelis to budge have proved fruitless and the announcement of the Israeli elections in May has put the situation in limbo.

[ image: Palestinians in Jerusalem went on strike on Sunday to protest at the lack of progress]
Palestinians in Jerusalem went on strike on Sunday to protest at the lack of progress
Palestinians in Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank marked 31 January with a 24-hour strike against the demolition of Palestinian homes in the city.

Fasting and praying

Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the spiritual leader of the Islamic Resistence Movement Hamas called on all Palestinians to fast for 12 hours on Monday and pray for the release of Hamas and Islamic Jihad prisoners.

[ image: Sheikh Ahmed to fast]
Sheikh Ahmed to fast
Mr Arafat, speaking at the start of a five-day trip to Europe and the United States, said of 4 May: "It is a sacred date, it is not a Palestinian date, it is an international date.

"You remember it has been agreed upon and signed by Russia, by America, by the European Union, by Norway, by Jordan, by Egypt, in the presence of the Japanese foreign minister and the representative of Mr Kofi Annan.

"So it is not a bilateral agreement, it is an international agreement."

Electoral paralysis

[ image: The hawkish Mr Netanyahu says Israel cannot accept Palestinian statehood yet]
The hawkish Mr Netanyahu says Israel cannot accept Palestinian statehood yet
Matters however have been complicated by the forthcoming Israeli elections and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu wants to delay the declaration of statehood until after polling day, 17 May.

Mr Arafat, the chairman of the Palestinian National Authority, wants to declare a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza on 4 May.

Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak, who met Mr Arafat at Davos, said he hoped the Palestinians would delay the proclamation of a state for some time to avoid "extremists creating problems."

The Palestinians have been coming under discreet pressure from Egypt, the US and the Europeans to delay the announcement of a state until the end of the year.

Mr Arafat is flying to the US on Monday and will travel on to Germany later in the week.

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