Palestinians observed a commercial strike Monday in parts of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Palestinian leaders appealed to the Arab world for help and called on their people to resist the Israeli siege on Yasser Arafat's offices, which started Thursday.
For the first time in the five-day siege, Israeli and Palestinian officials met Monday noon to try to end the standoff, and Israel later eased Arafat's isolation by allowing a Palestinian Cabinet minister to brief him on the negotiations.
Earlier, Mahmud Abbas, Arafat's number two, has received Israel's approval to discuss the siege with other Palestinian officials, an Israeli defense ministry spokesman said.
"We have authorized Abu Mazen (Abbas's nom de guerre) to hold consultations with Palestinian officials in his home" in Ramallah, which is under strict curfew, the spokesman said Monday.
Israel rejected a request from Abbas to enter Arafat's headquarters, where Arafat and some 250 of his loyalists have been blockaded by the Israeli army, the spokesman added.
Israeli media said Monday that U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer had delivered a harsh message regarding the siege to Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
The reports quoted the message as saying that the Israeli operation in which Israeli bulldozers destroyed nearly all of the compound except for an area containing Yasser Arafat and the "wanted" men, could disrupt U.S. efforts to build support for an attack on Iraq.
Yediot Aharonot newspaper ran a banner headline Monday reading "Bush to Sharon: Stop it".
Meanwhile, France led a European wave of criticism against the Israeli assault, calling it "unacceptable." A Greek Foreign Ministry statement said that Yasser Arafat asked Greece to work with the United States and Europe to end the siege, while Britain and Russia urged Israel to end the confinement. The U.N. Security Council was to convene Monday about the siege.
For its part, the Arab League will hold an "urgent meeting" Monday to "take a common position" on Israeli blockade of Arafat's offices in Ramallah.
"The council will take a joint Arab position in regard to the Israeli aggression against the Palestinian people and the siege imposed on the Palestinian leadership by the Israeli occupation forces," said a spokesman for the Arab League.
The meeting of national representatives was being held at the request of the Palestinian delegate to the Arab League, Mohamed Sobeih, the spokesman told AFP.
The meeting will be chaired by Lebanon's ambassador to Egypt and the Arab League, Sami Kronfol, whose country took up the organisation's rotating presidency on September 4.
Israel kept Arafat under siege in his last redoubt but halted Sunday the demolition of his compound. Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said Arafat should help bring about an end to violence or be replaced by an alternative leader.
"We don't want to expel him. We don't want to kill him. We don't want to hurt him .. what we want is that either he show he can control the situation" or an alternative leadership, Peres told CNN. (Albawaba.com)
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