Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Arafat Orders Foes Disarmed Civil War Feared as Militants Vow Revenge

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Arafat Orders Foes Disarmed Civil War Feared as Militants Vow Revenge

Article excerpt

Yielding to U.S. and Israeli pressure, Yasser Arafat gave the go-ahead Tuesday for disarming his Muslim militant opponents despite fears that the move might unleash a civil war.

Arafat's forces rounded up dozens more suspected militants, for a two-day total of 150 detentions. A new military tribunal sentenced Omar Shalah, a leader of the Islamic Jihad group, to life in prison for "inciting civil strife."

"I think we are entering a critical stage," Palestinian Justice Minister Freih Abu Medein said of the escalating confrontation between Arafat's government and the opposition.

The crackdown prompted cries of revenge from Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the two groups Arafat targeted after they carried out suicide bombings Sunday that killed seven Israelis and an American near Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip.

"The Palestinian Authority is crossing the red line," warned Ibrahim Nasman, a Hamas official and administrator at Gaza City's Islamic University. "There will be a spontaneous uprising against the Palestinian Authority."

Fatima Shalah, mother of the Islamic Jihad leader sentenced Tuesday, reacted angrily. "After what Arafat did to my son, I am ready to kill him by blowing myself up next to him," she declared.

The United States responded positively to Arafat's crackdown.

"He understands that if the peace process is to go forward successfully, those who control Palestinian institutions in Gaza and Jericho have to have a commitment to the rule of law," said Nicholas Burns, a State Department spokesman. Burns also said Arafat would be held responsible for making every effort to solve Sunday's bombings.

For his part, Arafat, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, accused Israel of provoking Palestinian civil war by permitting weapons to be smuggled to Muslim militants in Gaza and the West Bank. …

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