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Last Updated: Sunday, 14 September, 2003, 15:23 GMT 16:23 UK
Israel 'considers killing Arafat'
Yasser Arafat
Israel's agreement to "remove" Mr Arafat has attracted condemnation
The Israeli Government does not exclude killing Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, a cabinet minister has said.

In an interview with Israel Radio, Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said it was now only a practical question of how to get rid of Mr Arafat.

"His expulsion is an option, his liquidation is another option. It is also possible to confine him to prison-like conditions," Mr Olmert said.

The US Secretary of State Colin Powell said Washington had told the Israelis that it did not support "either the elimination or the exile of Mr Arafat".

Last week the Israeli security cabinet said it had agreed in principle to - as they put it - remove Mr Arafat, but deliberately left the meaning of the word open, says the BBC's Nick Thorpe in Jerusalem.

The Israeli Government is making no secret of the fact that it now lumps the Palestinian leader together with officials of militant organisations like Hamas, our correspondent says.

But Sunday's Israeli cabinet meeting gave no clue as to when any move might take place.

Arafat's vow

Thousands of Mr Arafat's supporters turned out in the West Bank, Gaza and in southern Lebanon on Sunday to pledge their allegiance and fight any attempt to remove him.

Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert (L) and PM Ariel Sharon at Sunday's cabinet meeting
Mr Olmert [left with PM Ariel Sharon] called Mr Arafat a murderer

Mr Arafat addressed by telephone up to 20,000 people in the Rachidiyeh refugee camp in southern Lebanon.

"Any attempts to get our people to capitulate will fail, because with God's help we will not kneel down," he said. "I will die in Palestine and I will not leave."

Thousands more marched through the West Bank city of Nablus shouting "we are all ready to be martyrs for Abu Ammar" - Mr Arafat's nom de guerre.

Israel's threats to expel Mr Arafat have attracted widespread international criticism, including a warning from the United Nations Security Council.

The security council will reconvene on Monday to hear a report from the UN envoy for the Middle East, Terje Roed-Larsen, followed by a debate open to all UN members.

The United States has said expelling Mr Arafat would be unhelpful, while Russia and the European Union - co-sponsors of the roadmap peace plan - said such a move would be a grave and terrible mistake.

The chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, described Israel's remarks as a mafia-style statement, inappropriate for a government.

Snatch raid plan

Iran and Syria have both condemned the Israeli decision to remove Mr Arafat.

But Israel says Mr Arafat is at least indirectly to blame for the terror attacks against its civilians, and blames him for blocking peace efforts.

On Sunday, Israeli Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz was quoted as saying Israel would not co-operate with any Palestinian government that carried out Mr Arafat's orders or did not fight terrorist groups.

"There will be no progress without the Palestinians fighting terror. If they don't, we will," Mr Mofaz was quoted as saying.

Palestinian Prime Minister-designate Ahmed Qurei has said he is suspending his bid to form a new government, saying that Israel's decision to remove Mr Arafat threatens the stability of the entire region.

Previously, Israel had regarded Mr Arafat as irrelevant and since December 2001 the Israeli army has largely confined him to his compound in Ramallah.

Israeli media reported several months ago that commandos had been training to grab Mr Arafat at his compound, bundle him onto a helicopter and fly him away, possibly to North Africa.

The BBC's Richard Miron
"These are amazing comments"

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