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Thursday, 6 December, 2001, 03:02 GMT
Now what for Arafat?
Yasser Arafat
Mr Arafat has to reconcile conflicting demands
By BBC News Online's Patrick Jackson

The botched Palestinian police operation against Hamas will be a major embarrassment to Yasser Arafat, coming only hours after the Palestinian leader urged Israel to give him a chance to assert his authority.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had already dismissed as a sham Mr Arafat's announcement of scores of arrests since the bloody events of the weekend provoked Israeli military action.

Palestinian helicopter damaged in Israeli air raid on Mr Arafat's official heliport
Israeli air strikes knocked symbols of Mr Arafat's authority

But amid the hardline rhetoric coming out of Tel Aviv, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres still showed a glimmer of faith in the veteran Palestinian leader when he spoke to him by telephone.

"You have no time, you have to act now," he said, warning that his "credibility" was at stake.

"Don't give me numbers, arrest the right people," he added, passing on a list of key suspects.

Hard choice

The attempt to place Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, Hamas's father figure, under house arrest was not new in itself - a similar bid during a bombing campaign was made successfully in 1996.

But in today's charged atmosphere, crowds of Hamas supporters were easily able to drive back the forces supposed to represent the authority of Mr Arafat's rule.

US President George W Bush
Customary US calls on Israel for restraint have been absent
The message on the streets appears to be that Palestinians will not countenance a leader who co-operates with Israel's security demands.

The demonstration of support for Sheikh Yassin and others who face arrest has sent a clear warning to Mr Arafat that there is little support now for the rounding up of those militants whom many regard as their defenders against occupation.

After the carnage wrought by Hamas's suicide attacks on Jerusalem and Haifa, the United States has made it clear that Mr Arafat must act against "one of the deadliest terrorist organisations in the world today".

The Palestinian leader must now weigh up which is the greater potential threat to his nascent state: an uprising from within by elements bent on war with Israel, or the full force of the Israeli state, unconstrained by its foreign allies.

The BBC's Kylie Morris in Gaza City
"It is not the first time that he has been in this situation"
The BBC's Jeremy Cooke in Jerusalem
"Another reminder that despite the tightest security, the threat remains"
Hanan Ashrawi, Palestinian Legislative Council
"I'm sure Sharon would like nothing better than to have President Arafat suddenly disappear"
See also:

05 Dec 01 | Middle East
Mid-East splits Europe and US
04 Dec 01 | Americas
US targets Hamas finances
04 Dec 01 | Middle East
Outrage at Israeli strikes
06 Dec 01 | Middle East
Hamas beats off Arafat's forces
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