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UN Warns Israel Not to 'Remove' Arafat

Security Council members are warning Israel not to "remove" Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. The United States has indicated it will veto any resolution on the Middle East that fails to condemn Palestinian terrorism.

The diplomats are unified in their opposition to any attempt to expel or kill Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. They cautioned that "removing" Mr. Arafat will only worsen an already deteriorating situation.

The Security Council debated the issue after a briefing by top U.N. envoy Terje Roed-Larsen. Mr. Roed-Larsen called for the rapid appointment of a new Palestinian prime minister, but he said that Mr. Arafat remains a legitimate leader. "Mr. Arafat is the democratically elected, and as such the legitimate leader of the Palestinians," he said. "He embodies Palestinian identity and national aspirations. He is far from irrelevant."

The meeting, with more than three dozen nations participating, comes as the Security Council considers a resolution, presented by several Arab states. The measure demands that Israel "desist from any act of deportation and cease any threat to the safety" of Mr. Arafat.

U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte noted that Secretary of State Colin Powell has expressed to Israeli leaders U.S. objection to the removal of Mr. Arafat. But he said that any new Security Council resolution must contain "a robust condemnation" of Palestinian terrorist groups.

Otherwise, Ambassador Negroponte indicated that the United States might veto the measure on the table. "We will not support any resolution that evades the explicit threat to the Middle East peace process posed by Hamas and other such terrorist groups," he said.

Days after a new spate of suicide bomb attacks inside Israel, the diplomats urged the international community to move quickly to revive the Middle East peace process.

The so-called Quartet, which consists of the European Union, Russia, the United Nations and the United States, is expected to meet in New York later this month to discuss the escalating crisis in the Middle East. France has also proposed holding an international conference and deploying an international observer force to help prevent further bloodshed.

Palestinian Observer to the United Nations Nasser al Kidwa welcomed the French proposals. He walked out during the briefing by Israel's ambassador, Dan Gillerman. Ambassador Gillerman described Yasser Arafat as a creator of global terrorism.