Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon says expelling Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat would not be a good idea, despite the fact that he deems Mr. Arafat the main obstacle to peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Mr. Sharon made the comments in an interview published Friday in the Jerusalem Post newspaper.
Mr. Sharon blames Yasser Arafat for decades of violence and terror and for the deaths of thousands of Israelis. He calls the Palestinian leader the number one enemy of peace.
Many in Mr. Sharon's government share that view, and the Israeli Security Cabinet decided last month to remove Mr. Arafat at some point as an obstacle to peace.
That prompted immediate speculation that Israel was preparing to expel the Palestinian leader. Some ministers went even further, calling for Mr. Arafat's assassination.
The United States and many other countries immediately called on Israel not to expel Mr. Arafat, even though Washington and Israel have refused to deal with him directly.
In Friday's Jerusalem Post interview, Mr. Sharon said expelling Mr. Arafat would not be a good idea, and he said Israeli intelligence analysts had confirmed that view. He also said the likelihood of expelling Mr. Arafat without harming him would be low, not only because of his security guards, but also because of the human chain of supporters, including Israelis, that has surrounded the Palestinian leader to protect him.
Mr. Sharon also talked about the controversial security fence Israel is building along and in the West Bank. He says the fence is necessary to stave off terrorist attacks.
He also told the Jerusalem Post the fence is designed to limit the flow of Palestinians, who he says are moving into Arab towns within Israel. He says the fence will include as many Israeli towns as possible inside its perimeter and leave out as many Palestinians as possible.
While Israel stresses the fence is vital for security, Palestinians and other critics see it as a land grab, since the fence veers far inside the West Bank in some areas and often separates Palestinians from their farmland.
Mr. Sharon says he is aware that the Bush administration is critical of the fence, but he says Israel will not back down since its own security is at stake, even if the United States should decide to withhold financial assistance over the issue.
The prime minister also defended Israel's air strike against what it said was a terrorist training camp in Syria earlier this month. He said Syria, along with Iran and Hezbollah, is cooperating in terrorist activities against Israel.
Syria denies it supports terrorism and says the Palestinian groups in Syria are not terrorists, but legitimate freedom fighters.
Mr. Sharon said the attack was not necessarily intended to inflict casualties, but rather to send a clear warning to Syria. He said the Syrian activity is very serious and would not rule out similar air raids in the future.