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Thursday, 3 October, 2002, 15:09 GMT 16:09 UK
Israel 'rehearses Arafat's expulsion'
Yasser Arafat greets crowds outside his wrecked headquarters in Ramallah
Arafat is determined to stay in Ramallah
The Israeli military has been practising a military operation to seize Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and fly him into exile, reports say.


This is an evil idea and just reflects the true intentions of the Israeli government

Saeb Erekat
Palestinian negotiator
Israeli security forces have confirmed the news, first reported in Israel's Maariv newspaper, to international news agencies.

Some members of the Israeli cabinet are known to be in favour of expelling Mr Arafat but have faced opposition from other ministers, the military and the United States.

Troops continue to be stationed around Mr Arafat's compound in the West Bank city of Ramallah after an operation last month in which they destroyed nearly all the buildings there.

'Short notice'

Maariv, one of Israel's leading daily newspapers, reported on Thursday that Israeli soldiers were ready move in against Mr Arafat at short notice.

Israeli forces recently laid siege to Arafat's headquarters
Israel has already reduced Arafat's compound to rubble
Security sources have confirmed to both the Associated Press and Reuters news agency that commandos have practised such an operation on a number of occasions in recent months.

It would involve grabbing Mr Arafat from his Ramallah compound, forcing him into a helicopter and then flying him to a third country.

Reports on Israeli television say the government has discarded neighbouring countries such as Jordan or Lebanon and also ruled out European Union nations.

Libya or other Arab countries with no diplomatic links to Israel are believed to be the most likely targets.

Israeli Government spokesmen have not been prepared to comment on the reports.

"This is an evil idea and just reflects the true intentions of the Israeli government... to destroy the peace process," Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told Reuters.

Other advisers to Mr Arafat say he has no intention of moving out from the ruins of his compound to another location, such as Bethlehem.

"The president is staying here," Nabil Abu Rdeneh said, the Associated Press reports.

Unwelcome

Israeli sources say commandos have been put on alert for the operation of exiling Mr Arafat after recent suicide bomb attacks on Israeli citizens.

Israel maintains that Mr Arafat is personally responsible for the attacks on its citizens carried out by Palestinian militants since the present intifada began, just over two years ago.

Correspondents say any move to expel Mr Arafat would be particularly unwelcome for the United States which has been trying to gain Arab support for its campaign to oust Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.


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