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Palestinians Walk Out of Beirut Summit - 2002-03-27

Palestinian President Yasser Arafat has endorsed a peace initiative by Saudi Arabia. But the Palestinian delegation has walked out of the Arab League Summit because Mr. Arafat's remarks were not televised via satellite to the delegates.

Chairman Arafat says the Palestinians accept what he called the "brave initiative" presented by Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah for a peaceful settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

He said the Saudi initiative should become "the peace of the brave."

Mr. Arafat delivered his remarks on the Arab satellite TV station, Al-Jazeera.

The Palestinian delegation withdrew in protest from the Arab League Summit in Beirut because Mr. Arafat was not permitted to address the Arab leaders live, via satellite, during the opening session.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat demanded an explanation from the Lebanese government for the apparent snub.

During his speech, the Palestinian leader slammed Israel, saying the past 18 months of conflict with the Jewish state has caused more than $7.5 billion worth of damage to Palestinian infrastructure, farms, schools, mosques and churches.

Mr. Arafat accused the Israeli government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of putting obstacles in the way of peace. He said the Palestinians are supporting the work of U.S. envoy Anthony Zinni, who is in the region trying to mediate a cease-fire.

The Palestinian chairman said he is opposed to killing civilians on both sides, but called Israel's "suffocating siege" and "military escalation" the "worst form of terror."

Israel says the closure of the West Bank and Gaza Strip is necessary to protect its civilians from terror attacks by Palestinian militants.

Mr. Arafat has been confined to the Palestinian territories by the Israeli military since December.

Prime Minister Sharon said Tuesday the situation is "not ripe" for Israel to lift travel restrictions on the Palestinian leader. Mr. Sharon was demanding that Mr. Arafat support a truce, and he had threatened not to allow the Palestinian leader to return to the West Bank if he left for Beirut.

The Palestinians rejected the Israeli conditions and announced Mr. Arafat would not attend the summit.