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Saturday, 18 May, 2002, 15:46 GMT 16:46 UK
Arafat accused of ducking reforms
Youth slings stone at Israeli forces near Ramallah
Israel says it needs to keep troops in the territories
A senior Israeli official has accused the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat of seeking excuses not to carry out reforms and hold elections in the Palestinian territories.

Mr Arafat said on Friday that presidential and parliamentary elections could only be held after an Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian areas.

The Palestinian leader is under pressure from his own parliament to hold the elections as part of a reform of the authority and the first presidential challenger has already emerged.


On the one hand he [Arafat] talks about reforms, now he has an excuse not to execute those reforms

Raanan Gissin
Israeli official

Raanan Gissin, an adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said it was "really preposterous" to expect Israel to lift its security presence before Mr Arafat carried out "real reforms" and held elections.

"The conditions are perfect for him to exercise reforms because the terror infrastructure... has been severely damaged," said Mr Gissin.

Mr Sharon's adviser justified the Israeli presence, saying the number of suicide bombings had fallen drastically because Israel was "sitting on top of the place".

"He [Arafat] knows very well that as long as he doesn't take any action against terrorism, the Israeli forces will have to remain there," said Mr Gissin.

"On the one hand he talks about reforms, now he has an excuse not to execute those reforms."

Violence continued in the Palestinian territories on Saturday when Israeli troops at a checkpoint opened fire on a moving car near Hebron, in the West Bank.

The car flipped over and a Palestinian doctor inside was killed.

Election pressure

Mr Arafat agreed to hold elections after the Palestinian parliament demanded the dissolution of his cabinet on Thursday and called for municipal polls this year with presidential and parliamentary elections by the beginning of 2003.

But he insisted there could be no free elections while Israeli forces continued to occupy Palestinian land.
Yasser Arafat
Mr Arafat is under pressure from his own parliament

Asked by a reporter when he expected to see "free elections for Palestinians", Mr Arafat replied: "As soon as we will finish this occupation [of] this land".

He did not make clear whether he was referring to a full Israeli withdrawal.

One of his aides, Nabil Shaath, said later that the demand was only for Israel to pull out to positions held before September 2000.

Mr Arafat has also been under pressure to reform the PA from the United States and the Arab world.

US State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said "strong democratic, transparent and accountable Palestinian institutions" had to be created in preparation for Palestinian statehood.

It is understood that some preparations are already under way for elections to be held and the Palestinian Central Elections Committee is due to meet on Saturday.

Challenger

The first presidential challenger to Mr Arafat announced himself just after the parliament called the polls.

Abdel Sattar Qassem, 53, is a Palestinian political scientist and dissident. He has been jailed both by Israel and latterly by the Palestinian security forces for his outspoken criticism of Mr Arafat and previous calls for elections.

He said he would run on an anti-corruption platform.

Mr Qassem is Western-educated and secular, but sympathises with Islamic militant groups and supports suicide attacks against Israeli civilians, the Associated Press reports.

He does not recognise the state of Israel and opposes the interim peace agreements Mr Arafat has made with Israel, the news agency says.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Claire Marshall
"[There is] confusion over the possible future Palestinian elections"
See also:

16 May 02 | Middle East
Palestinian MPs call for elections
15 May 02 | Middle East
Arafat commits to Palestinian reform
08 May 02 | Middle East
UN condemns Israel over Jenin
03 May 02 | Middle East
'No Jenin massacre' says rights group
29 Apr 02 | Middle East
Expert weighs up Jenin 'massacre'
20 Apr 02 | Middle East
Tragedy at Jenin, says US envoy
12 Apr 02 | Middle East
The battle for Jenin
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