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Last Updated: Tuesday, 14 September, 2004, 10:51 GMT 11:51 UK
Sharon pledges Arafat expulsion
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat
Arafat has been confined to his HQ in Ramallah since late 2001
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has again said that Israel will expel Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat from the Palestinian territories.

In a newspaper interview, Mr Sharon said the expulsion would be carried out at what he called a convenient time.

He said he could see no difference between Mr Arafat and several top leaders of the militant Palestinian group, Hamas, whom Israel has killed.

The US has repeatedly warned Israel not to kill or expel Mr Arafat.

Israeli leader Ariel Sharon
We took action against Yassin and Rantisi and a few other murderers... On the matter of Arafat's expulsion we will operate in keeping with that same principle
Ariel Sharon
Mr Arafat is the elected leader of the Palestinian Authority.

Despite widespread disenchantment at corruption in the authority and what many Palestinians see as misrule by Mr Arafat, he is still popular and the most important figurehead for the Palestinian national cause.

Correspondents are linking Mr Sharon's comments to a fierce political debate in his cabinet over his Gaza withdrawal plan.

'Same principle as Hamas'

In an interview with the Yediot Aharonot Mr Sharon said: "We took action against Ahmed Yassin and Abdelaziz Rantisi and a few other murderers when we thought the time was right.

These kind of threats are very serious and are preparing the ground for a physical attack on President Arafat
Saeb Erekat
Palestinian spokesman and chief negotiator
"On the matter of Arafat's expulsion we will operate in keeping with that same principle. We'll do it at a time that suits us."

Mr Arafat has been effectively confined to his headquarters in the West Bank town of Ramallah since December 2001.

Israeli and US officials no longer have direct dealings with Mr Arafat having dismissed him as an obstacle to peace.

'Serious threats'

Most of the international community, including the United Nations and the European Union, still recognise Mr Arafat as the legitimate leader of the Palestinians and deal with him directly.

Saeb Erekat, a leading Palestinian spokesman and chief negotiator, said Mr Sharon's threats were being taken seriously.

"These kind of threats are very serious and are preparing the ground for a physical attack on President Arafat," Mr Erakat told the AFP news agency.

"We are holding Israel entirely responsible for these threats and warn them not to carry them out."

It is the third time in less than a week that a senior Israeli government figure has spoken of the possible removal of Mr Arafat.

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