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Sunday, 13 January, 2002, 13:22 GMT
Arafat aide proposes demilitarised state
Armed Palestinian militants at Hamas funeral, Rafah
Israel blames Arafat for attacks by militants
The Israeli Foreign Minister, Shimon Peres, has praised as "courageous" a senior Palestinian official's call for the creation of a demilitarised Palestinian state.

Sari Nusseibeh, the top Palestinian official in East Jerusalem, said it would be better for the Palestinians if any future state was demilitarised.


A Palestinian state should be demilitarised - not because that's what Israel demands, but in our own interest

Sari Nusseibeh
"In the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, weapons can in no way help find the solution," he told the German weekly Der Spiegel.

Suicide attacks on Israel were "morally unacceptable and politically counter-productive," he said.

Mr Peres said it was "a courageous declaration ... coming from a man who has already shown independent thinking in the past".

His remarks came as the row continues over an arms shipment seized by Israel in the Red Sea, apparently intended for Palestinian use.

Moderate

Mr Nusseibeh is the Palestine Liberation Organisation's Jerusalem commissioner.

The BBC's James Reynolds in Jerusalem says Mr Nusseibeh is seen as one of the leading moderates among the Palestinian leadership.

Sari Nusseibeh
Sari Nusseibeh was briefly detained by Israeli police a month ago
Mr Peres said Mr Nusseibeh's statement "translates the point of view of the associates of (Palestinian leader) Yasser Arafat, who think that there should be an end to terrorism and a resumption of peace talks".

But two right-wing Israeli ministers quoted by Israel radio dismissed Mr Nusseibeh's remarks.

Public Security Minister Uzi Landau described the comments as "a trick".

And Environment Minister Tzahi Hanegbi said Mr Nusseibeh was an "esoteric character" without any status in the Palestinian Authority, the radio reported.

Talks deadlock

Last October, US President George Bush said the creation of a Palestinian state had always been part of the US vision for the Middle East.

No Palestinian leader has emerged yet to replace Mr Arafat as a negotiating partner with Israel.

The Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, has refused to discuss peace with Mr Arafat, dismissing him as "irrelevant".

Israel says that Palestinian leaders, including Mr Arafat, were behind a recent attempt to smuggle arms on board a cargo ship.

The Palestinian Authority has ordered the arrest of two Palestinian naval officials.

But it has denied any knowledge of the Karine A, which Israeli forces intercepted in the Rea Sea on 3 January.

However, it set up a commission of inquiry which accused three members of the authority - all previously implicated by Israel - of being responsible for the operation.

See also:

10 Jan 02 | Middle East
US ups pressure over arms ship
30 Dec 01 | Middle East
Israel sees peace hope
17 Dec 01 | Middle East
Israel demands 'actions not words'
29 Nov 01 | key documents
The Mitchell report
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