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Palestinians Rally Around Arafat, Defy Israel - 2003-09-12


Palestinians are rallying around their beleaguered leader, Yasser Arafat, who faces possible expulsion by Israel. The decision has already brought on international criticism.

Israeli police used tear gas and stun grenades to disperse Palestinian youths after Friday prayers. They entered the hilltop compound outside the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem's old city, after youths began throwing stones at Jewish worshippers below at the Western Wall. No injuries were reported, and the crowds quickly dispersed.

Tensions are on the rise after a decision late Thursday by Israel's security cabinet to "remove" Yasser Arafat on the grounds that he is an obstacle to peace. The military has been ordered to draw up plans for a possible forcible expulsion at some future date.

Shortly after the decision, thousands of Palestinians took to the streets in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to show their support for Mr. Arafat and their defiance of possible Israeli plans to deport him.

Crowds gathered at Mr. Arafat's compound in Ramallah, vowing to defend him. The Palestinian leader came out to address his supporters, saying he would not be forced out.

There has already been international criticism of the Israeli decision, including from the United States, the European Union, the United Nations, Russia and Arab nations. Washington has said expelling Mr. Arafat would not help the peace process. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said such a move would encourage more acts of terrorism.

Israel blames Mr. Arafat for continuing to foment violence and doing nothing to stop militant attacks against Israelis. He denies the accusations. Israel and the United States have sought to isolate Mr. Arafat, saying they will not deal with him in peace negotiations.

Yasser Arafat has been physically isolated in his Ramallah compound for most of the past two years, at times surrounded by Israeli troops and tanks, at other times unwilling to leave, fearing that Israel would not allow him back in. An Israeli opinion poll, published Friday in the Yediot Ahronot daily, showed that 37 percent of those questioned said Mr. Arafat should be killed, while 23 percent said Israel should force him into exile.

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