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Palestinians Denounce Arafat Travel Restrictions - 2002-03-11

Israel says Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is now free to travel around the West Bank and Gaza Strip, ending his three months of virtual house arrest. Palestinian leaders say the move is inadequate because Mr. Arafat will not be allowed to travel freely abroad.

Israel says Mr. Arafat no longer enjoys the freedom to travel aboard without explicit Israeli government permission.

"This means that he cannot travel outside at this given time," explained Foreign Ministry official Arie Mekle. "He can move around and travel throughout those territories controlled by the Palestinian authorities but not to other countries."

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat denounced the restrictions. "This cannot be acceptable. President Arafat's movement is provided for in an agreement signed within the West Bank, within Gaza, between the West Bank and Gaza and abroad," he said.

The Israeli policy will be tested later this month, when Mr. Arafat is expected to try to attend an Arab League summit in Beirut to debate a Saudi peace plan for the Middle East.

Mr. Arafat had been confined to his headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah since December. Israel Prime Minister Ariel Sharon lifted the travel ban because of the arrest of six Palestinian suspects in the October assassination of Israeli Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi.

The Israeli military Monday continued sweeps in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and Palestinian sources say several people were killed and wounded.

Israel also rounded up several hundreds of teenage boys and men in the West Bank refugee camp of Dheishe and the town of Qalqilya in a search for weapons and militants.