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US Congressmen Urges Tougher Stand on Arafat - 2001-12-06


The U.S. House of Representatives has passed a non-binding resolution urging President Bush to cut ties with the Palestinian Authority and its leader, Yasser Arafat, unless they halt violence by Islamic militants. A similar proposal is pending in the Senate. The action follows Israeli air strikes against Palestinian targets in retaliation for a wave of Palestinian suicide bombings in recent days that killed more than two dozen people in Haifa and Jerusalem.

The resolution, which passed by a 384 to 11 vote, condemns the recent violence and calls on Mr. Arafat to crack down on those responsible or turn them over to Israel for prosecution. The vote followed sometimes emotional debate.

Reflecting growing U.S. impatience with Mr. Arafat, the resolution calls on President Bush to end relations with the Palestinian Authority President and his organization if they fail to act.

Congressman Ben Gilman of New York is a ranking Republican on the International Relations Committee. He said, "We must not do business as usual with Mr. Arafat while he continues to allow Palestinian suicide bombers to roam freely, enabling them to carry out more destruction against civilians."

But Democratic Congressman John Dingell of Michigan, who represents a district with a large population of Arab-Americans, criticized the resolution as one-sided, threatening the U.S. position as an honest broker in the search for Middle East peace. "This resolution is counterproductive," he said. "It does not move us forward towards world peace. It does not move us forward towards a resolution of the controversy or the differences which are causing so much terrorism, heartache, and suffering for Israelis and for Arabs alike. It leaves us with a bunch more people who are going to say the United States sides with Israel, and it is not concerned with peace in the Middle East."

Darrell Issa, a Republican from California, questioned why the resolution made no mention of Palestinian suffering. "The Palestinian authority is as much a victim of these attacks as any one would see the Israelis," he said. "They have had loss of life as a result of this."

Republican Congressman Henry Hyde of Illinois, chairman of the International Relations Committee and sponsor of the bill, sought to explain why the resolution focused on Israeli terror victims. "It is American to put your arms around a fellow democracy and not turn your back on them, that is what we were doing," he said. "This simply says when acts of terrorism occur, attention must be paid."

Supporters of the measure said the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon and President Bush's vow to oppose those who harbor or support terrorism gives the resolution more urgency.

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