Arafat warns Palestinians ‘prepare for battle’
JERUSALEM (AP) _ Yasser Arafat told his people Wednesday to ``prepare for battle,″ saying the worst is yet to come in crippling Israeli sanctions. Newly trained Palestinian fighters declared themselves ready to meet a feared Israeli invasion.
Alarmed Jordanian leaders urged both sides to tone down the tough talk in the Israeli-Palestinian crisis.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has suspended peace talks, ordered mass arrests, clamped a travel ban on the West Bank and Gaza and halted the transfer of vital tax revenues to Arafat’s self-rule government in the week since suicide bombers killed themselves and 13 others in a crowded Jerusalem market.
``Prepare for battle that Netanyahu is forcing on us, because what is coming is worse than what has already been,″ Arafat said in Gaza, at a meeting with leaders of his Fatah faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
In the West Bank city of Ramallah, members of Fatah burned Israeli and U.S. flags during a graduation ceremony for a course in weapons-handling and street combat.
The 50 graduates were trained to confront Israeli forces if they try to enter the Palestinian-controlled cities, Palestinian officials said. Hard-liners within Netanyahu’s government reportedly have urged him to take that step.
Netanyahu said that he was ready to ease up if Arafat clamps down on terror.
``If I had to say what is the indispensable step to saving peace, it is for the Palestinian Authority to take firm and decisive and immediate steps against the infrastructure of terrorism,″ Netanyahu said after meeting with Jordan’s Crown Prince Hassan and Prime Minister Abdel-Salam Majali in Jerusalem.
Hassan countered that militants should not be allowed to sabotage the peace process. ``Clearly the possibilities of extremism destroying and derailing the process are many,″ he said.
Netanyahu _ who before the bombings faced American pressure to freeze settlement building in a gesture to the Palestinians _ is apparently waiting for the arrival this weekend of U.S. envoy Dennis Ross before making any concessions.
Earlier, ringed by security forces, he lit a memorial candle and recited a prayer for the dead in Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda market.
``If he’ll keep his side of the bargain, we’ll keep our side of the bargain,″ he said _ drawing yells from the crowd of: ``The people are with you.″
Ahmed Qureia, speaker of the Palestinian legislature, called an emergency session for Saturday to discuss Israel’s crackdown.
Leaflets bearing the name of the militant group Hamas claimed responsibility for the attack and threatened a new wave of bombings. Israel had yet to identify the two suicide bombers, and Palestinian officials believe they came from abroad.
The Arabic newspaper Al-Ayyam reported Wednesday that a news service in Nicosia, Cyprus, received an anonymous call saying the bombers were Palestinians from the south Lebanon refugee camp Ein el-Hilweh.
Arafat adviser Ahmed Tibi said that when it becomes clear the bombers didn’t come from areas under Palestinian rule, ``Netanyahu should personally apologize to Yasser Arafat and pay compensation for all the economic losses that resulted from the cruel siege.″
Netanyahu, however, said Israel believed that the bombers had at least received orders from militants in the Palestinian-controlled areas.
Israel wants Arafat to hand over wanted men, rearrest Palestinians released from Palestinian jails, disarm Islamic militants and arrest their leaders, stop anti-Israel propaganda, resume intelligence-sharing and fire the Palestinian police chief.
Palestinian officials maintain the Israeli measures are hampering their ability to fight the militants and strengthening the support of Hamas and its sister groups.
Tibi said Hamas _ which runs day-care centers, schools and medical centers throughout the West Bank and Gaza _ enjoys support from almost 25 percent of the Palestinian population.
``Nobody can crush 25 percent of his own community,″ he said.
Israel is also asking Britain, France and Germany to close down major fund-raising operations run by Hamas in Europe.
The closure blocked hundreds of Palestinians from entering Gaza from Egypt at the Rafah border crossing, which is still administered by Israel.
``We are only families here. Families are not a threat,″ said Amal Okal as she waited with her husband, eight children and 12 suitcases outside the Egyptian passport control office.