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Friday, 1 February, 2002, 01:18 GMT
Sharon condemned for Arafat remarks
Ariel Sharon
Sharon says he had the chance to kill Arafat in 1982
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has been strongly criticised for saying he regrets not having killed Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in Lebanon 20 years ago.

The European Union deplored the remarks, while a spokesman for the Palestinians said they showed the mindset of a gangster rather than a prime minister.

Mr Sharon was speaking to the Israeli newspaper Maariv, during an interview which is to be published in full on Friday.

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

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

Mr Sharon's reported 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.

The remarks also coincide with a new Middle East peace initiative being considered by the EU.

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

Saeb Erekat
"If they [the remarks] correspond to what Prime Minister Sharon has said, I must say that I deplore them and of course they deserve our rejection," Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Pique, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the EU, told a news conference.

A Palestinian minister, Saeb Erekat, said the Israeli leader's words were "very dangerous". By expressing regret about not killing Mr Arafat in 1982, Mr Sharon "means he want to fix his mistake," Mr Erekat said.

The United States was more hesitant in its criticism, with State Department spokesman Richard Boucher - when pressed by reporters - only acknowledging that such remarks "can be unhelpful".

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.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat
Yasser Arafat in Beirut in 1982
"In Lebanon, there was an agreement not to liquidate Yasser Arafat," Mr Sharon said.

"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.

His spokesman said current policy was not to harm Mr Arafat personally.

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.

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.

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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