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Road Map Peace Plan is 'Dead' says Arafat - 2003-09-03

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat says the internationally-backed "road map" to peace is dead and that Israel is to blame. Mr. Arafat made the comments during an off-camera interview with the Cable News Network from his headquarters in the West Bank city, Ramallah.

CNN's website quotes Mr. Arafat as saying "the road map is dead, but only because of Israeli military aggression."

Recent weeks have seen an upsurge in Israeli-Palestinian violence, after a brief lull that resulted when Palestinian militant groups declared a unilateral cease-fire.

But, the truce was in trouble from the start. Israel did not recognize it and insisted the Palestinian Authority move to disarm and dismantle factions such as Islamic Jihad and Hamas. Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas did not want to take the steps, fearing such a crackdown would spark a civil war.

The shaky truce unraveled in mid-August, when a Hamas suicide bomber blew himself up on a bus in Jerusalem, killing 21 people. Since then, Israel has carried out six missile strikes in the Gaza Strip, targeting Hamas leaders and militants. About a dozen militants and several bystanders have been killed in those attacks.

Palestinian militant factions have called off their truce and, in the CNN interview, Mr. Arafat said there is no chance of them resuming it.

And, then there has been the power struggle between Mr. Arafat and Prime Minister Abbas. The prime minister is not very popular at home, but he has the support of Israel and the United States. He has said he is committed to the road map and to reform, but his actions have been limited some say by Mr. Arafat, who has refused to cede to him full control of the Palestinian security apparatus.

Palestinian leaders have been meeting in Ramallah to try to overcome the differences between the two men. Mr. Arafat told CNN the rift between him and Mr. Abbas has been greatly exaggerated by Israel to create problems for the Palestinian leadership.

Mr. Arafat's comments were published shortly after Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz told army radio Yasser Arafat must go and that Israel might force him into exile before the end of the year. Mr. Mofaz said Israel made, what he called, a "historic mistake" in not expelling the Palestinian leader two years ago.

Mr. Abbas's political strength may be tested during an expected meeting of the Palestinian Legislative Council on Thursday.