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JERUSALEM (AP) _ Captured Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti has told Israeli interrogators that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat personally approved weapons funding for attacks against Israelis, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s office said Thursday.
Palestinian officials contacted by The Associated Press refused to comment on the report. In the past, they have consistently denied that Arafat approved attacks against Israelis, citing his denunciations of attacks against civilians on both sides.
Barghouti, 41, captured in the West Bank town of Ramallah on April 15, is the highest ranking Palestinian leader to be taken into custody during Israel’s recent sweep through the West Bank.
Since then, he has complained that he has been permitted only short periods of sleep and has been questioned around the clock for days at a time.
Barghouti is the West Bank head of Fatah, Arafat’s movement, and is widely believed to be the leader of the Tanzim, the militia wing of Fatah, blamed by Israel for dozens of attacks against Israelis.
The prime minister’s office said Barghouti told Israel’s Shin Bet secret service interrogators that when a militiaman wanted to carry out an attack, he had to fill out a detailed request for funding and weapons and hand it in to Barghouti. He would sign it and pass it along to Arafat for final approval, the report said. Also, Arafat had to approve every outlay of funds, whatever the amount.
The account is at odds with what many militants have said previously. Members of the Al Aqsa Brigades, a militia linked to Fatah, have said that they are semi-autonomous and did not clear planned attacks with top Palestinian leaders.
Israel has charged that Arafat is responsible for Palestinian violence during 19 months of conflict, by encouraging militants and failing to crack down on extremists. The Israelis also say that in recent months, most of the attacks against Israelis have come from groups affiliated with Arafat’s Fatah.