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 Sunday, 15 December, 2002, 12:35 GMT
Bin Laden 'exploits Palestinian cause'
Yasser Arafat
Arafat says he is the first Arab leader to stand up to Bin Laden
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has accused Osama Bin Laden of exploiting the Palestinian struggle for an independent state.

Bin Laden never helped us... he was working in a completely different area and against our interests

Yasser Arafat
In an interview with London's Sunday Times newspaper, Mr Arafat said the leader of the al-Qaeda network was hiding behind the Palestinian cause for his own purposes.

He said he was angry that al-Qaeda had tried to justify atrocities - such as last month's bombing of an Israeli-owned hotel in Kenya - by claiming that they were part of a campaign to get Palestinian territories back from Israel.

Earlier this month, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said that al-Qaeda militants were operating in the Gaza Strip and Lebanon.

Palestinian women march in support of Bin Laden
Israel says al-Qaeda operates in Gaza

But Palestinian officials rejected the allegations and later accused the Israeli secret service, Mossad, of setting up a fake al-Qaeda terrorist cell in Gaza.

Mr Arafat told the newspaper: "Sharon wants to cover his military attacks against the Palestinian people with a new face. He knows that there are no relations between al-Qaeda and Palestine."

He said his movement was against any attack on civilians, including Israelis.

'First to speak out'

Mr Arafat acknowledged that there was sympathy for Bin Laden among young people in the Palestinian territories, but said this came from despair.

"These kids don't really know who Bin Laden is," Mr Arafat said.

He said he was the first leader in the Arab world to stand up to Bin Laden.

The Palestinian leader also accused Bin Laden of opportunism.

"Why is Bin Laden talking about Palestine now? Bin Laden never, not ever, stressed this issue. He never helped us. He was working in a completely different area and against our interests."

"I am telling him directly not to hide behind the Palestinian cause," he said.

Bethlehem ban

Publication of the Sunday Times' interview came as the Israeli Government announced it would ban Mr Arafat from travelling to Bethlehem for Christmas celebrations for the second year running.

The Israeli cabinet, chaired by Mr Sharon, also announced Israeli forces would remain in Bethlehem throughout the Chrismas period.

Israeli troops reoccupied Bethlehem three weeks ago, and Israel controls road and airspace throughout the West Bank.

"Israel's behaviour... is stupid and a provocation to the Palestinian people, as well as being a challenge to international law," said Mr Arafat's top adviser, Nabil Abu Rudeina.

Mr Arafat has been confined to the West Bank city of Ramallah, north of Jerusalem, for the past year.

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  ON THIS STORY
  The BBC's Charu Shahane
"There is no doubt that Mr Arafat is under pressure to distance himself from Osama Bin Laden"

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05 Dec 02 | Middle East
04 Dec 02 | Middle East
29 Nov 02 | Middle East
03 Dec 02 | Africa
22 Nov 01 | South Asia
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