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Israel to Consider US Position in Deciding How It Deals with Arafat - 2003-09-26

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon says U.S. objections will be taken into account in determining the fate of Palestinian President Yasser Arafat. He was commenting on his cabinet's decision earlier this month to remove Mr. Arafat.

Mr. Sharon says Israel is determined to remove Mr. Arafat one day, but the timing will be influenced by the policy concerns of the U.S. administration.

He also says there is a risk that Mr. Arafat could be killed in an Israeli military operation to take him into custody from his headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

Mr. Sharon's remarks came one day after his foreign minister, Silvan Shalom, told the U.N. General Assembly in New York that the international community is wrong to continue defending Mr. Arafat.

"I know that for many in this place, Yasser Arafat is seen as a symbol of the Palestinian struggle," he said. "Tragically, for his people and for ours, he is one of the worst icons of terror. In the 10 years since Arafat declared his commitment to Israel and the world that he would no longer use terror, 1,126 Israelis have been killed and thousands wounded in 19,000 separate Palestinian terrorist attacks."

In the past, Mr. Sharon had given guarantees to President Bush that Israel would not harm Mr. Arafat. But in an interview published in Israel on Friday, Mr. Sharon said his pledge had been overturned by the decision of his Israeli Security Cabinet on September 11.

At the same time, Mr. Sharon said, he would also have to weigh the possible impact on the U.S. government of any move against Mr. Arafat, while American forces are operating inside Iraq.

Mr. Sharon made his comments in a series of interviews to mark the start of the Jewish New Year. In a bid to protect its citizens, Israel has sealed off the West Bank and Gaza Strip until after the holiday ends Sunday evening.