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Saturday, 2 February, 2002, 21:18 GMT
Militant group shuns Arafat
March following the killing of former PFLP leader Abu Ali Mustafa
The PFLP is angry its leader remains in jail
A radical Palestinian group is scaling down its involvement with Yasser Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) in protest at the Palestinian Authority's arrest of its leader.

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) says there can be no Palestinian unity while Ahmad Saadat remains in jail.

Rally organized by the Palestinian Fatah movement in support of Yasser Arafat on 2/02/2002
Mr Arafat still has wide support
A spokesman of the PFLP, the second largest group in the PLO, told a news conference in the West Bank city of Ramallah that the group would no longer take part in top-level meetings of the Palestinian leadership.

The PFLP combines Arab nationalism with Marxist Leninist ideology and sees the destruction of Israel as integral to its struggle to remove Western influence from the Middle East.

The Palestinian Authority arrested the PFLP leader last month following intense pressure from Israel - which blames Mr Saadat for the assassination of Israeli Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi in October.

The PFLP said it had killed the minister in revenge for Israel's killing of its former leader, Abu Ali Mustafa.

Palestinian officials accuse Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of seeking to divide the Palestinians by isolating and undermining Mr Arafat - dismissed as "irrelevant" by members of Mr Sharon's inner circle.

Sowing divisions

The rift between radicals and those in the PLO who are more inclined to try to find common ground with Israel came after it emerged that Mr Sharon had met leading Palestinians face-to-face.

Masked Palestinian gunman holding bullets
Israel is accused of trying to divide the Palestinians
It was the first such meeting since he took office last year.

Mr Sharon's talks with Palestinian parliamentary speaker Ahmed Korei, Mr Arafat's unofficial deputy, Mahmoud Abbas and a senior Palestinian economic adviser, Khaled Salam took place at the Israeli prime minister's home on Wednesday.

Israel radio reported that Mr Sharon would meet the three men again after returning from a planned visit to Washington next week - for his fourth set of talks with President George W Bush in a year.

Israeli and Palestinian security officials also met in Jerusalem on Friday, renewing talks that were put on hold a month ago amid an upsurge in violence.

Mr Sharon said he would not negotiate with the Palestinian leadership until there was an end to the violence, which has cost more than 1,000 lives since the current Palestinian intifada, or uprising, began in September 2000.
Yasser Arafat
Arafat has been pinned down in Ramallah

But he has not ruled out meetings with Palestinian leaders other than Mr Arafat.

Analysts said the talks could be aimed at establishing a dialogue with Palestinians considered "moderate" by the Israelis.

That could be a way of increasing pressure on Mr Arafat to rein in militants, or it could be a means of opening a channel of communication with senior Palestinians more acceptable to Israel.

Arafat's successors?

Mr Korei, who has held a series of meetings with Israel's Foreign Minister, Shimon Peres, was one of the three PLO representatives who met secretly with Israelis in Norway before the 1993 Oslo peace accords.

Mr Abbas signed the peace deal on behalf of the PLO.

Both men are seen as possible successors to Mr Arafat - accused by Israel and the United States of involvement in a smuggled cargo of arms intercepted by Israel. Mr Arafat denies the allegations.

Israeli forces have confined Mr Arafat to his compound in the West Bank town of Ramallah after a series of shootings and suicide bombings.

Palestinian officials have accused Mr Sharon of seeking to topple Mr Arafat and his Palestinian Authority as Israel attempts to quell the uprising.

The BBC's Kylie Morris
"The PFLP leader was arrested last month"
See also:

01 Feb 02 | Middle East
Split widens over Israeli reservists
01 Feb 02 | Middle East
Sharon condemned for Arafat remarks
25 Jan 02 | Middle East
US reconsiders ties with Arafat
20 Jan 02 | Middle East
Thousands demand Arafat's release
13 Jan 02 | Middle East
Arafat aide proposes demilitarised state
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