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Last Updated:  Monday, 3 March, 2003, 19:11 GMT
Arafat accused of genocide
Yasser Arafat
Arafat is accused of masterminding attacks against Jews
Seven French nationals have started legal action against the leader of the Palestinian Authority, Yasser Arafat, accusing him of crimes against humanity and genocide.

The seven - all relatives of Jewish victims killed during the current Palestinian uprising, or intifada - said Mr Arafat was responsible for the crimes.

"[Yasser] Arafat had the power and the means to stop acts of terrorism, murders and violence... [but] he organised and paid for them with the money of the Palestinian Authority," the seven families - all French Jews living in Israel - said in a statement.

The statement said Mr Arafat did not have immunity of a head of state under French laws as there was no internationally recognised Palestinian state.

A specially appointed judge must now determine whether the lawsuit can be accepted and pursued legally.

'Concerted plan'

The statement said the suit included dozens of pages describing circumstances surrounding various "criminal acts, suicide bombings... and car bombs which caused death or injury to the victims of the crimes".

It said video tapes of speeches at Gaza mosques "inciting directly and publicly to kill Jews" and some of Mr Arafat's speeches were also included.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs said that as Jews, they considered themselves victims of "a concerted plan aimed at the partial destruction of a racial or religious group, which constitutes a genocide".

The move follows the recent decision by a Belgian appeals courtto reject a lawsuit brought by Palestinians to prosecute Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for alleged war crimes.

However, the Belgian parliament has not ruled out changing the country's laws to bring the case before the court.

More than 1,800 Palestinians and more than 700 Israelis have been killed since the intifada began in September 2000.

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