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Thursday, 31 January, 2002, 13:50 GMT
Sharon regrets sparing Arafat
Ariel Sharon
Sharon blames Arafat for the upsurge in violence
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon says he regrets not having killed Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in Lebanon 20 years ago.

He made the comments in excerpts of an interview with the Israeli newspaper Maariv, which is to be published in full on Friday.


In principle, I'm sorry that we didn't liquidate him

Ariel Sharon
Mr Sharon was Israeli defence minister at the time Israeli troops invaded Lebanon in 1982 in an attempt to drive Mr Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organisation out of Lebanon.

The comments come as Mr Arafat remains under virtual house arrest inside his headquarters in the West Bank town of Ramallah and as Israel debates cultivating an alternative Palestinian leadership.

In his interview, however, Mr Sharon said the Palestinian leader could still be his negotiating partner if he arrested Palestinian militants Israel blames for organising attacks against it.

The Israeli prime minister's comments drew criticism from Palestinian spokesman Saeb Erekat, who said Mr Sharon was now trying to finish what he started in 1982.

"For prime ministers to announce openly their gangster intention is a reflection of what kind of government we're dealing with."

Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Pique, whose country currently holds the rotating EU presidency, also criticised Mr Sharon's remarks, saying they "warrant rejection".

Sharon's regret

In the summer of 1982, the Israeli army launched a massive military incursion into Lebanon.

Operation "Peace for Galilee" was intended to wipe out Palestinian guerrilla bases near Israel's northern border - but as defence minister, Ariel Sharon pushed all the way to Beirut and expelled the PLO from the country.

"In Lebanon, there was an agreement not to liquidate Yasser Arafat," Mr Sharon said.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat
Yasser Arafat in Beirut in 1982
"In principle, I'm sorry that we didn't liquidate him."

But the prime minister also said he was still prepared to talk to Mr Arafat.

"If Arafat will take all the steps that we are demanding from him, for me he will return to be a partner in negotiations," Mr Sharon said.

And Israeli spokesman Raanan Gissin told the BBC that Mr Sharon's comments belonged in the past - if the Palestinian leader died, it would be "by the hands of Allah or Abdullah" - in other words, God or fellow Arabs.

Israel says Mr Arafat will remain isolated until he arrests the militants Israel says were behind the killing of Tourism Minister Rehavam Ze'evi last October.

'Jail'

In a previous interview with Maariv, Mr Sharon said Mr Arafat was being blockaded in Ramallah to keep him from doing "harm".


If Arafat will take all the steps that we are demanding from him, for me he will return to be a partner in negotiations

Ariel Sharon
"It is preferable that Arafat stays locked in Ramallah instead of being expelled from the territories as he could cause more harm outside," he said.

Thousands of Palestinians demonstrated across the occupied territories early this month to demand Mr Arafat's release.

There has been an upsurge in violence recently with Palestinian suicide bombers attacking Israeli targets and the Israeli army responding with incursions inside Palestinian-controlled territories.

In the latest violence on Thursday, Israeli troops shot dead two Palestinian militants after they allegedly detonated a bomb on a road inside a Jewish settlement in the Gush Katif area of the Gaza Strip.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Caroline Hawley in Jerusalem
"Israel says it has no intention now of harming the Palestinian leader"
Dr Dore Gold, spokesman for the Israeli President
"There is a total sense of exasperation with Arafat's policies"
Palestinian Authority Minister Nabil Shaath
"This is no way to go back to a peace process"
Israeli journalist Daniel Shilon
"Mr Sharon is very determined to stop the terror"
See also:

31 Jan 02 | Middle East
Arafat and the Beirut factor
20 Jan 02 | Middle East
Thousands demand Arafat's release
12 Dec 01 | Middle East
Arafat says Sharon has him marked
26 Jan 02 | Middle East
Arafat urges end to attacks
29 Jan 02 | Middle East
Mystery over female 'suicide bomber'
30 Jan 02 | Middle East
Female bomber's mother speaks out
29 Jan 02 | Middle East
Suspected militants arrested in raid
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