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CIA Director Tenet Arrives Amid Continued Mideast Tensions

BY Admin  June 3, 2002 at 6:00 PM EDT

Tenet’s visit comes amid renewed tensions after a Palestinian court and ruling council debated the release of a jailed radical leader wanted by Israel for the assassination of its tourism minister.

Ahmed Saadat, head of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), is one of six Palestinians being held under U.S. and British supervision at a Palestinian jail as part of a U.S.-brokered deal to end the recent Israeli siege on Palestinian President Yasser Arafat’s headquarters.

The Palestinian Authority’s High Court ordered Saadat’s release because of a lack of evidence directly linking the militant leader to the October 2001 assassination of Rehavam Zeevi, the Israeli Tourism Minister. The PFLP had claimed responsibility for the assassination citing it as revenge for Israel’s killing of Saadat’s predecessor.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon denounced the court’s decision.

“We have taken all necessary steps so that it will not be possible to release a person who was involved in murder, ordered murder and whose organization carries out murder to this day,” Sharon told reporters.

Later in the day Monday, the Palestinian Cabinet overrode the court’s ruling, citing possible violence by Israeli forces. In a statement, the cabinet said it respected the court’s decision, but could not allow it to stand because “the Israeli occupation forces” had closed the city of Jericho and “threatened to assassinate” Saadat.

In a separate move tied to promised democratic reforms, Arafat offered cabinet posts to four militant groups, including Hamas and the Islamic Jihad, that have been involved in suicide bombing attacks on Israel. All four rejected the offer, saying their movements oppose peace deals with Israel.

“The Islamic Jihad is a movement of resistance and it cannot take part in the cabinet under the current circumstances,” Islamic Jihad leader Abdallah al-Shami told Reuters. Both groups want Arafat to focus on military resistance against Israel and halt peacemaking attempts.

The latest developments may overshadow Tenet’s visit, during which he planned to press the Palestinian leadership to restructure its security forces and push for progress with planned reforms.

Tenet was scheduled to meet with Sharon late Monday and with the Palestinians on Tuesday. According to media reports, the Israelis plan on telling Tenet that they remain skeptical about the effectiveness of proposed Palestinian reforms as long as Arafat remains in power.