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Israeli Leaders Talk of Removing Arafat - 2003-09-15

Israel remains defiant in the face of widespread international criticism for its plans to force Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat into exile and statements by some ministers that killing him might be the answer. Palestinians warn of chaos if Mr. Arafat is removed. and the United States warns such action would incite rage throughout the Muslim world and elsewhere.

Speaking on Israeli radio, Housing Minister Effi Eitam said the deportation of Yasser Arafat is just a matter of time.

"We shall not accept and we shall not negotiate and we shall not let this man remain in power at the end of the process," he said. "The question is not if, but when, and I think when is very soon."

Mr. Eitam is a member of the security cabinet which last week decided to "remove" Mr. Arafat as an obstacle to peace. The cabinet did not specify how that removal is to be carried out. The choices include forced exile or even assassination, as Israel's Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert proposed on Sunday. Other Israeli officials have spoken of virtually making Mr. Arafat a prisoner in solitary confinement in his Ramallah compound by not allowing him visitors or phone calls.

News of such Israeli proposals has sparked vehement criticism. Palestinians have taken to the streets in the West Bank and Gaza to show their support for Mr. Arafat. The United Nations, the European Union, Russia and Arab nations have voiced their criticism. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said Sunday Israeli action to remove the Palestinian leader would ignite rage throughout the Muslim world and elsewhere.

Senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat warned that, if Mr. Arafat were removed, the whole Palestinian Authority would collapse.

The U.N. Security Council is expected to meet Monday to discuss a resolution demanding that Israel cease its threats against Mr. Arafat.

Israel's Haaretz newspaper quotes senior Israeli sources as saying the government is preparing Mr. Arafat's expulsion in stages and they predict that world objections will die down, the way public opinion has gotten used to Israel's re-occupation of areas of the West Bank that were once under Palestinian control.