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Wednesday, 28 February, 2001, 17:32 GMT
Palestinian Authority branded 'terrorists'
Israeli soldiers enforce checks on Palestinians
Israeli soldiers enforce checks on Palestinians
Israel's army chief has accused Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority of becoming a "terrorist entity" and stockpiling weapons in the Palestinian territories.

Lieutenant-General Shaul Mofaz said violence had escalated in the past four weeks and warned that Israeli troops would be unable, as he put it, to "show restraint indefinitely in the face of continuing attacks against our territory".

His accusation, which was swiftly rejected by a senior Palestinian official, was the latest salvo in a war of words over the five-month-old Palestinian uprising that has left more than 400 people dead, most of them Palestinians.

The Palestinians are making a very big effort to smuggle (ammunition and arms) into the territories, especially into the Gaza Strip by sea and by tunnels from Egypt to Rafah

Lieutenant-General Shaul Mofaz

General Mofaz accused senior Palestinian security officials, including members of the security branch of Yasser Arafat's Fatah faction, of being involved in promoting and directing attacks on Israelis.

"They are clearly the operational arms of the Authority's leadership and Arafat himself. The implication is that the Authority is being converted into a terrorist entity."

A senior adviser to Mr Arafat dismissed the allegations as baseless.

"He wants to use these accusations to cover his crimes and aggressions and his future plans against the Palestinian people," Ahmed Abdel-Rahman told Reuters news agency.

Building a government

The row came as Prime Minister-elect Ariel Sharon courted right-wing and religious parties to join his national unity government.

His efforts to form a government have run into difficulties, after the party of defeated Prime Minister Ehud Barak finally agreed to join the coalition on Tuesday.

Disgruntled members of Mr Sharon's right-wing Likud party have voiced concern over Labour party participation.

Labour and Likud do not have enough seats in Israel's fractious parliament to govern alone so Mr Sharon has been negotiating with other smaller parties on the right wing of the political spectrum.

These parties are currently scrambling for ministerial posts, leaving Likud with relatively few for themselves.

Ehud Olmert, negotiator for Likud, said he hoped to shape a government by the end of the week.

On Tuesday, after meeting Jewish leaders, Mr Sharon said the country needed unity because it was "beaten and torn" by the Palestinian uprising.

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