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Sharon Asks U.S. to Shun Arafat

Sharon said in an interview published Friday in an Israeli newspaper, “[I]gnore Arafat. Boycott him. Don’t have any contact with him and don’t send him delegations.”

Israeli tanks have surrounded the Palestinian Authority headquarters in the West Bank town of Ramallah, placing Arafat under virtual house arrest. Sharon has said that Israel will uphold its promise not to harm Arafat, but further steps might be forthcoming.

“I don’t think we have exhausted all the pressure,” Sharon told the Yediot Ahronot daily.

Sharon is scheduled to hold talks with President Bush at the White House next week. This will be their fourth meeting in a year. Arafat has not yet been invited to Washington.

During the first months of the war on terrorism, when the Bush administration was trying to shore-up support from its Arab allies, Secretary of State Colin Powell and others said the time for a Palestinian state was near and the administration criticized the Israeli government for killing suspected Islamic militants.

However that atmosphere appeared to sour in January with an increase in attacks against Israeli civilians and the capture of a weapons-laden ship allegedly headed for the Palestinians with the knowledge of top officials, including Arafat.

The Israeli government places the blame for the breakdown in peace talks on Arafat, claiming he only pretended to call for a ceasefire while he was encouraging militants to continue their attacks.

However, Palestinian officials say Israeli roadblocks and bombing raids on Palestinian jails and security compounds made it impossible to crack down on militant groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

Palestinian Cabinet minister Ziad Abu Zayyad called on President Bush to continue negotiations with Arafat.

“The outcome will show us whether American policy decisions are drafted in Tel Aviv or in Washington,” he said.

In public remarks Friday, President Bush said that “what derails peace is terror and the more quickly we eliminate terror, the more likely it is we’ll have a peaceful solution in the region.”

Sharon “regrets” not killing Arafat in ’82

Meanwhile, in another interview published Thursday, Sharon answered “absolutely” when asked whether he regretted not having killed Arafat in 1982.

“But we made a commitment not to do that,” Sharon said of his attack against Palestinian forces in Beirut, Lebanon.

“In Lebanon, there was an agreement not to liquidate Yasser Arafat. In principle, I’m sorry that we didn’t liquidate him,” the Maaiv daily reported Sharon as saying. The newspaper later said it had paraphrased Sharon’s words.

In the same interview, Sharon said that he is prepared for territorial concessions in exchange for peace with a Palestinian state. In the past, Sharon has opposed such land-for-peace deals.

“This would be a long process, but in the end there will be a Palestinian state,” he explained. “It will be a demilitarized state that would have a police force for maintaining public order. It would have to give up the weapons it holds, but a Palestinian state will be created in the end.”

The same paper published a commentary Friday in which former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wrote that “Arafat’s regime must be toppled, and it must be done immediately.”

Netanyahu is expected to challenge Sharon in the next election.