Israeli Cabinet Votes to Expel Arafat, but Delays Action

A statement released by the Israeli government said, ”Recent days’ events have proven again that Yasser Arafat is a complete obstacle to any process of reconciliation.”

“Israel will act to remove this obstacle in the manner, at the time, and in the ways that will be decided on separately.”

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had previously vetoed expelling Arafat because of Washington’s disapproval, the Associated Press reported.

“The Israeli government knows our position on Arafat; our position has not changed,” U.S. Embassy spokesman Paul Patin said.

Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom acknowledged that U.S. approval would be “almost impossible to obtain,” telling Israel Army Radio that “there are some situations in which we have to make decisions … that are completely cut off from outside influence.”

Sharon has not made his opinion public.

Newly appointed Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei said the decision “will have grave consequences, not just on the Palestinian areas, but on the entire region.”

“This is a destructive decision for all the efforts that are being exerted to restore quiet and stability and peace in the region. We call upon all wise people in the world to stop this crazy decision,” Qurei said.

Arafat told a crowd of supporters who had gathered at his West Bank headquarters Thursday that he would not leave his compound.

Witnesses said that Wednesday night Israeli troops took over two buildings, the Palestinian Culture Ministry and an uninhabited structure near Arafat’s headquarters, the AP reported.

The majority vote to expel Arafat comes after two suicide bombings in Israel killed 15 people. Israelis responded with an attack Wednesday at the home of Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar, wounding him and killing his bodyguard and eldest son.

Qurei, who accepted the post of prime minister Wednesday, had intended to set up an emergency cabinet because of the escalating violence. Instead of the cabinet, Qurei has decided to form a full government — a process that will take far longer than expected.

Israeli ministers were expected to consider alternative responses to Tuesday’s bombings, including tightening Arafat’s isolation at his West Bank headquarters, or reoccupying the Hamas leadership base, the Gaza Strip.

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