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Last Updated: Wednesday, 27 August, 2003, 19:02 GMT 20:02 UK
Arafat calls for new ceasefire
Hamas gunman
Mr Arafat called on militants to commit to a ceasefire
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has called on militant groups to reinstate a ceasefire they formally ended last week after a Hamas leader was killed by Israeli gunships.

The call came as the Palestinian Prime Minister, Mahmoud Abbas, held emergency cabinet talks in the Gaza Strip about the escalating violence between Israel and Palestinian militants.

"President Yasser Arafat calls on all groups and parties to commit themselves... to the ceasefire to give a chance to all peaceful international efforts for the implementation of the roadmap," a statement said.

Mr Arafat accused Israel of rejecting the US-backed peace roadmap by "escalating" attacks against Palestinian militants.

I give [Mr Abbas] all my effort and backing
Yasser Arafat

But the Israelis have dismissed Mr Arafat's declaration as propaganda and said they would continue targeting militants until the Palestinian Authority dismantled their organisations.

Raanan Gissin, an adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said Mr Arafat's statement was meaningless: "Arafat has never stopped supporting the strategy of terror. He has no interest in a peaceful solution."

Hamas has also criticised Mr Arafat's move, with senior political leader Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi saying: "Any call to strike at the movements or the resistance is a very dangerous call."

And the White House dismissed the move, saying: "Arafat has once again shown himself to be part of the problem. He is not part of the solution."

Iraq model

On Tuesday, a bystander was killed and at least 20 wounded in an Israeli missile strike on Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip.

The three Hamas members managed to flee their car before it was hit by three or four missiles in a busy street north of Gaza City.

Israeli troops shot dead a Palestinian reportedly armed with a knife in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on Wednesday.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad both called off a seven-week-old truce last week after Israel killed Hamas co-founder Ismail Abu Shanab in retaliation for the suicide bombing of a Jerusalem bus that left 21 people dead.

The jailed head of the leftist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) urged followers to take their cue from Iraqi resistance to US forces in a speech to commemorate the group's assassinated former leader.

Ahmed Saadat addressed crowds from his Jericho prison cell on his mobile phone which was linked up to loudspeakers in the centre of Ramallah exactly two years after Abu Ali Mustafa - also known as Mustafa Zibri - was killed by Israeli forces, AFP news agency reports.

'Military solution'

Mr Abbas said Israel's pursuit of a "military solution" only encouraged new violence.

"This brutal Israeli Government policy will only take us back to the vicious circle of violence," he said.

Mr Arafat - whom Washington sidelined in courting Mr Abbas as its favoured Palestinian figure - insisted he had no dispute with his prime minister over security.

"This is... an Israeli media fabrication," he said. "I give [Mr Abbas] all my effort and backing."

The BBC's David Chazan, in Gaza, says the militant groups may not be prepared to hear pleas for restraint from the Palestinian prime minister, but they are far more likely to listen to Yasser Arafat.

Mr Arafat may be trying to reassert his leadership, and eclipse Mahmoud Abbas by demonstrating to the Americans that he is the man they should be doing business with, our correspondent adds.

Mr Arafat said on Wednesday that the Palestinian Authority was working along with Egypt and Saudi Arabia to revive the truce.

The BBC's James Reynolds
"Arafat may be confined to his compounds but it would appear he's still the man in charge"

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