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Last Updated: Monday, 27 October, 2003, 14:49 GMT
Israel 'will not kill Arafat'
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat
Arafat's position remains a source of contention for Israel
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has said his country has no plans to kill Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Mr Sharon said this was despite Mr Arafat being responsible for the deaths of "thousands of Jews, mostly civilians".

Israel decided in principle to "remove" Mr Arafat at a security cabinet meeting in September, prompting a hail of international criticism.

Mr Sharon's comments came as violence flared on Israel's northern border with Lebanon.

Fighters from the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah fired on Israeli military positions in the disputed Shebaa Farms region with shells and rockets.

The Israelis responded with an artillery barrage and air strikes.

Reassurance

Mr Sharon said Mr Arafat had not come to harm, but levelled a burst of criticism at the Palestinian leader.

"You don't have to worry, he's [Arafat] alive and very active in taking all steps... to murder civilians," Mr Sharon told journalists following a meeting with European parliament members.

Earlier this month Mr Sharon said he did not think expelling Mr Arafat would be a good idea.

Elkana settlement

Also on Monday, Israel reportedly moved to change the status of a number of West Bank settlements to make it possible for them to get government funding.

The list of outposts includes some earlier dismantled by the army under the terms of the roadmap international peace plan.

Israeli radio quoted officials as saying the move would allow the outposts to be allocated funds for education and infrastructure projects, as well as security.

Israeli media reports suggest the Defence Ministry is to provide services to eight West Bank outposts.

An unnamed official in the ministry told the Associated Press that the outposts would be fenced in and would receive lighting, while children living there would be bussed to schools.

However, a ministry spokesman, Ron Shechner, told the Yediot Ahronot newspaper that this did not amount to the legalisation of the outposts.

Shifting settlements

The Israeli group Peace Now, which monitors settlement activity in the Palestinian territories, says that when the roadmap plan was launched in June, there were 104 outposts.

Peace Now says that since then, the Israeli military has dismantled seven, but five more have been established, so that there are now 102.

Israeli radio reports said that some of the outposts due to be granted permanent status had previously been dismantled by the army.

The peace plan required Israel to freeze settlement activity in the Palestinian territories and remove dozens of outposts established since Ariel Sharon came to power two years ago.




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