Yasser Arafat said he still saw Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon as a partner for peace despite the destruction wrought on Palestinian areas by the latest Israeli military offensive.
"He is the person who has been elected by the Israelis and we are dealing with him... because our partner is the Israeli people," Arafat said Thursday night in an interview with Reuters.
Meanwhile, the official Palestinian news agency reported that Arafat has called for the creation of a Palestinian state based on the principle of land for peace, the recent Saudi initiative and the dismantlement of the settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The Palestinian leader also called for “immediate talks with Israel, to be monitored by the U.S., European states and the Arab nations.” Arafat said that the Palestinian people should be able to carry on with their lives without daily attacks by Israel.
Meanwhile, the Palestinian leadership is to decide whether to free two senior activists wanted by Israel who are currently being held in Jericho, Arafat told the Qatari television station Al-Jazeera.
"I have asked the Palestinian leadership to decide during its meeting tomorrow (Friday) whether to set them free or not," Arafat said.
The Palestinian leader was referring to Fuad Shubaki, who is accused by Israel of bank-rolling Palestinian arms shipments, and Ahmad Saadat, the head of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). Arafat said that an investigation had cleared Shubaki, while Saadat was the leader of the PLO's second largest movement.
Saadat's PFLP has claimed responsibility for the killing of Israeli tourism minister Rehavam Zeevi.
Arafat also condemned in the interview a decision by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to disband a fact-finding team which he appointed 10 days ago to look into the slaughter at Jenin refugee camp.
"If Egypt, Morocco, China or Japan had blocked an (international) mission, would the world have remained silent?" he said. "So why do they keep quiet when Israel is concerned?" "Is it normal that a UN Security Council decision, backed by the United States, should be treated in this way?" (Albawaba.com)
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