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Monday, 4 March, 2002, 18:51 GMT
Israeli cabinet clash over Arafat
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon
Pressure has been mounting on Mr Sharon

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's cabinet decided on Sunday to step up Israeli military operations against the Palestinians following the attacks over the weekend which left 21 Israelis dead.

But according to Monday's Israeli media the security cabinet reached its decision amid wrangling and discord between its members.

Israeli radio said some right-wing ministers pressed for harsher measures, including the dismantling of the Palestinian Authority (PNA), a direct attack on its leader Yasser Arafat, and a partial reoccupation of Palestinian territories.

We have to dismantle the infrastructure of the terrorist organizations in the territories

Likud minister Dani Nave

The radio said Defence Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer and Prime Minister Sharon clashed over Mr Sharon's proposal to tighten the siege of Yasser Arafat.

It reported that Mr Ben-Eliezer had "vetoed Sharon's plan to return army tanks to Ramallah with a view to pinning Arafat down in his offices there" and had said that harming the symbols of the PNA should be avoided.

"The national unity government is split over whether to topple Yasser Arafat," Israeli radio commented.

The most radical proposals at the meeting came from a group of right-wing members, including Likud minister Dani Nave, Shas minister Shlomo Benizri and Avigdor Liberman from the National Union.

Ha'aretz newspaper said Mr Benizri called "for a direct attack on Arafat". Israel radio said Nave called on the cabinet to make far-reaching decisions that would bring about the end of the Palestinian leader.

Civilian targets

"What we need is a clear decision", Mr Nave said, "a strategic decision that we have to dismantle the infrastructure of the terrorist organizations in the territories and then to define what is the right border for the State of Israel for the future".


If there is a responsible leadership among the Palestinians, that's the time - maybe the last time - when they can sit with us, negotiate.

Labour minister Efrayim Sne

Israel radio said Mr Liberman went further, urging the bombing of Palestinian civilian targets such as shopping centres and petrol stations.

This would force the Palestinians to surrender and to agree to a cease-fire, he said.

Foreign Minister Shimon Peres' reply was harsh. He warned that "if the ministers were to pursue that course of action, they would end up like Milosevic at the Hague," the radio reported.

"I do not care", Mr Liberman replied.

Labour's Efrayim Sne said the government would make a big mistake if it tried to get rid of Mr Arafat.

In remarks broadcast by the radio, Mr Sne said: "We are not interested in replacing Arafat with full control of terror organizations and gangs over the West Bank and Gaza.

"If there is a responsible leadership among the Palestinians, that's the time - maybe the last time - when they can sit with us, negotiate. Our hand is still extended in peace."

According to the Yediot Aharonot paper, however, time seems to be running out for Arafat. It quoted a senior Israeli cabinet member as saying: "We are nearing a decision to reoccupy the territories. This is about the last hour for the PNA to regain its senses."

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

See also:

29 Nov 00 | profiles
Arafat: Flawed symbol of Palestine
26 Feb 02 | Middle East
Saudi peace initiative takes root
04 Mar 02 | Middle East
Six die in Israeli tank attack
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