Thousands of Children Rally for Arafat
RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) _ Thousands of schoolchildren rallied outside Yasser Arafat’s sandbagged office Saturday as he waved and blew kisses from a window _ the latest show of support as Israel threatens to send the Palestinian into exile or further isolate him.
``In our souls and our blood we defend Abu Ammar,″ the children shouted, using Arafat’s nom de guerre.
A spirited Arafat briefly came to front steps of his office and corrected them: ``In our souls and our blood we defend Palestine, Palestine, Palestine.″ A beaming Arafat saluted the children and went back inside.
It was the latest outpouring of support for Arafat after Israeli leaders decided Thursday to ``remove″ him whenever they choose. The vaguely worded decision _ made after 15 Israelis were killed this week in two suicide bombings _ leaves open several options, including deporting Arafat, capturing him or killing him.
The Ministry of Education asked teachers in Ramallah to bring students to Arafat’s office on Saturday, which is normally a full day of classes.
After disappearing again into his office building, Arafat reappeared, leaned from a window and gave a flurry of gestures, alternating between flashing ``V″ victory signs and blowing kisses.
Thousands of children in school uniforms rushed forward, pushing and shoving past teachers unable to control the crowd.
``I’m very happy because this is the first time I’ve seen President Arafat,″ said Abdel Zakaria, 13. Asked why he thought Israel wanted to get rid of Arafat, the boy said, ``Because he is strong. They know that he is strong and can push them out of Palestine, so they want to expel him.″
The young boy said he and his friends would defend the building by throwing stones if Israeli troops closed in.
Speaking through a loudspeaker, Arafat told the children, ``Allow me to go now. I’m very busy now meeting with ambassadors and visitors from Arab, African and foreign countries,″ he said.
For nearly two years, Arafat has been holed up in his Ramallah office compound, which has several times come under attack from Israeli tanks and bulldozers. Israel and the United States have sought to isolate the leader, whom they accuse of having a hand in terrorism and being an obstacle to peace efforts.