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Palestinian PM-Designate Demands Israel Lift Arafat Travel Ban


Palestinian Prime Minister-designate Mahmoud Abbas says he will not meet foreign leaders abroad until Israel lifts its travel ban on President Yasser Arafat.

Mr. Abbas is demanding an end to Israel's restrictions on Mr. Arafat's movements, imposed by Israel more than a year ago. Those restrictions have kept the Palestinian president a virtual prisoner for months at his headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

The compound was besieged several times last year and most of it destroyed by Israeli forces, which also prevented Mr. Arafat from leaving the area. Israel now says Mr. Arafat is free to go, but that it will not guarantee he will be able to return.

Israel has also decided that it would no longer automatically boycott visiting foreign ministers who meet with Mr. Arafat in Ramallah.

These changes represent an easing in the sanctions that Israel began imposing in December, 2001, when it broke off all direct contacts with Mr. Arafat, declaring him irrelevant.

But Mr. Abbas said these concessions are not enough. Mr. Abbas said he will not travel to any destination before "the siege imposed on Mr. Arafat" has been lifted and before he enjoys full freedom to move within the West Bank and Gaza and outside, without any obstacles to his return.

Such a declaration appears to threaten plans by President Bush, who said last week he would invite Mr. Abbas to the White House as part of efforts revive peace talks.

Mr. Bush has refused to meet Mr. Arafat, but has praised Mr. Abbas for his stand against terrorism.

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