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Sharon Urges Palestinians to Overthrow Leaders - 2002-10-14

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has called for Palestinians to overthrow their leaders and replace them with officials who advocate peace. Mr. Sharon appealed to Palestinians to oust Yasser Arafat, saying his leadership is responsible for much of their suffering.

In an address opening the winter session of Israel's Parliament, the Israeli leader also predicted the coming year will be a turning point in the Middle East conflict.

"Your terrible suffering is unnecessary; your blood is being spilled in vain," he said. "Change the despotic regime that is leading you from failure to failure, from tragedy to tragedy."

Mr. Sharon said murderous gangs have taken over the Palestinian areas with the active encouragement of Mr. Arafat.

The Israeli leader says he sees a change coming in the next 12 months, and he will be ready for the next opportunity to make peace with the Palestinians.

Mr. Sharon is to depart for Washington for talks this week with President Bush and other officials on how to get the peace process moving again.

Meanwhile, Mr. Arafat's Fatah faction vowed revenge for the assassination of one of its activists, Mohammad Abayat.

He was killed in an explosion that blew apart a telephone booth in Beit Jala, near Bethlehem on Sunday. The Palestinian Authority accuses Israel of assassinating him, but Israel has refused to comment on the incident.

Clashes erupted at Mr. Abayat's funeral. About 100 mourners chased the head of a local human-rights group, who has criticized the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, a military wing of Fatah. The crowd then set upon journalists who had followed them, injuring one photographer for the Reuters news agency.

Palestinian Cabinet Minister Nabil Shaath says leading members of Fatah and the militant group Hamas will hold talks soon in one of the Arab Gulf States aimed at easing tension that has led to some fighting in Gaza.

Two Hamas members are accused of killing a Palestinian police commander with ties to Fatah. After the murder, Palestinian police opened fire on demonstrators in Gaza, killing several Hamas supporters.