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Palestinians: Sharon Travel Curbs On Arafat Are Blackmail

Palestinian officials say Chairman Yasser Arafat will not attend an Arab summit in Beirut.

Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo says President Yasser Arafat has decided not to attend the Arab League summit in Lebanon.

Mr. Abed Rabbo says Mr. Arafat rejected Israeli pre-conditions for him to travel abroad.

The decision came hours after Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said the situation is "not ripe" for the Jewish state to lift travel restrictions on the Palestinian leader, who has been confined to the West Bank since early December.

Mr. Sharon said that the Palestinian leader should declare a cease-fire and call for an end to violence after a nearly 18-month-old uprising against Israeli occupation.

Prime Minister Sharon also said the United States should guarantee that if there are terrorist attacks if Mr. Arafat traveled to Beirut, Israel should not have to allow him to return to the Palestinian territories.

Mr. Sharon has said there must be an agreement on a cease-fire before the Palestinian chairman would be allowed to travel out of the West Bank.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat says the Palestinians reject Mr. Sharon's conditions. "He is trying to use blackmail or insinuated blackmail, in order for the Palestinians to accept the Israeli plan in exchange for Arafat's departure for Beirut," he said. "This is not acceptable."

Israeli government spokesman Raanan Gissin says Mr. Arafat does not deserve to attend the Arab summit.

"There have been ten cease-fires, all violated by Yasser Arafat, and now there is this urge, this pressure by the whole world for him to go to Beirut," he said. "He has not delivered even one measure, one step in order to bring his people around to the negotiating table to stop the violence, to stop the terrorism."

The Arab League summit is expected to focus on a proposal by Saudi Arabia that calls on Arab countries to end the conflict with Israel in return for a total withdrawal by the Jewish state from land captured during the 1967 Middle East war.

The decision by Mr. Arafat not to attend the summit came as two members of an international observer force were shot and killed in an ambush in the West Bank.

The Israeli military says Palestinians opened fire on their car on a road used mostly by Jewish settlers near the volatile city of Hebron.