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Saturday, 26 January, 2002, 20:33 GMT
Palestinians rally for Arafat
Palestinians demonstrating in Bethlehem on Saturday
Palestinians blame the US for the Israeli raids
Thousands of Palestinians have demonstrated in Bethlehem to show solidarity with their leader Yasser Arafat - a day after US President George W Bush said he was disappointed with him.

Mr Arafat has not commented on Mr Bush's remarks but has called on Washington to do more to promote peace in the Middle East.

If tanks did not intimidate us in Beirut, how could they scare us in Palestine?

Yasser Arafat
He has urged Palestinian militants to halt attacks on Israel, but has vowed to continue the struggle for a Palestinian state.

In the latest violence, Israelis launched a new raid in the Palestinian-controlled Gaza Strip.

Israeli soldiers had earlier killed a Palestinian civilian near a checkpoint on the approaches to the West Bank town of Ramallah, where Mr Arafat has been kept under virtual house arrest since December.

On a visit to Iran, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan described the escalating violence in the Middle East as "tragic" and called for a collective international effort to bring the parties to the negotiating table.

Demand for peace

The peaceful demonstration in Bethlehem started at midday and marchers proceeded towards Mr Arafat's offices, carrying banners bearing the image of their leader.

Representatives of the main Palestinian factions attended the march in addition to parliamentarians, members of the Palestinian National Council and Christian and Muslim figures from Bethlehem and its surrounding villages.

Yasser Arafat
Arafat has been confined to Ramallah since December
The National and Islamic Forces - a coalition of 13 Islamic and secular groups formed at the start of the intifada 16 months ago - distributed a statement to the crowd.

The coalition called for "the continuation of the intifada, the necessity to affirm national unity and to release political prisoners," who have been jailed recently as Mr Arafat has come under increasing pressure from Israel and the US.

In Ramallah, the Palestinian leader urged President Bush to do more for peace in the Middle East.

"I have said to him that I started the peace process with his father, President Bush... I told him that I hope we will continue what was started," Mr Arafat told Reuters news agency.

President George W Bush
President Bush said he was disappointed with Mr Arafat
About 700 Palestinians gathered around Mr Arafat's compound in Ramallah - representing delegations of civil servants, civilians from Hebron and doctors from the area.

Mr Arafat thanked them saying: "If tanks did not intimidate us in Beirut, how could they scare us in Palestine?"

Bush's disappointment

Both the US and Israel have intensified pressure on Mr Arafat to curb Palestinian militants.

I have said to him [President Bush] that I started the peace process with his father, President Bush... I told him that I hope we will continue what was started

Yasser Arafat
President Bush said he was "disappointed" with the Palestinian leader and that Mr Arafat had to make a "full effort to rout out terror".

The American president made his remarks as senior members of his administration were contemplating a possible change of policy towards the Palestinian Authority.

Mr Arafat's call for attacks against Israel to stop was made after a cabinet meeting on Friday.

However, hours after that, the Israelis launched fresh attacks inside Palestinian-controlled areas, using missiles and tank shells.

The missiles landed in an open area in the east of the Gaza Strip.

In the north, Palestinian security sources said Israeli tanks had responded with shells and heavy machine gun fire, after coming under fire from Palestinians near the towns of Beit Lahia and Beit Hanoun.

The BBC's Caroline Wyatt
"It was a swift response"
See also:

26 Jan 02 | Middle East
Arafat urges end to attacks
25 Jan 02 | Middle East
Israeli jets hit Palestinian targets
25 Jan 02 | Middle East
Suicide bomber strikes Tel Aviv
25 Jan 02 | Middle East
Hamas vows revenge for militant's death
25 Jan 02 | Middle East
US 'proves' Palestinian arms link
24 Jan 02 | Middle East
'Suicide squad' killed in Gaza blast
02 Dec 01 | profiles
Who are the suicide bombers?
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