Archive for Tuesday, May 14, 2002

Arafat backs out of visit to Jenin refugee camp

May 14, 2002

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— Making his first trip in six months, Yasser Arafat on Monday toured West Bank cities battered by the Israeli military, but he drew relatively small crowds in a sign of growing dissatisfaction with the Palestinian leadership.

Arafat skipped his most widely anticipated stop the devastated Jenin refugee camp pulling back at the last moment when aides feared he would be heckled in the stronghold for Islamic militants.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, center, is helped by aides to
walk through the rubble as he inspects the damage caused by the
latest Israeli military operation in the Old City of the West Bank
town of Nablus. The town was one of several toured by Arafat
Monday.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, center, is helped by aides to walk through the rubble as he inspects the damage caused by the latest Israeli military operation in the Old City of the West Bank town of Nablus. The town was one of several toured by Arafat Monday.

With aides holding both his arms, the Palestinian leader stepped gingerly onto the rubble on the edge of the camp, but turned and departed without approaching the makeshift stage or the 3,000 residents awaiting him.

"I'm very angry and very disappointed because Arafat did not visit the camp," 43-year-old Mohammed Abu Ghalyoun said. "He didn't talk to normal people, he didn't want to meet the people who lost their sons ... If he isn't interested in us, we are not interested in him."

Until Monday, Arafat had not left the West Bank city of Ramallah for six months, and much of that time he faced Israeli travel restrictions. Arafat faced tremendous pressure from Israel and the United States to make the deals, but it has produced grumbling among some Palestinians.

"All the people in the camp supported Arafat when he was under the siege in his compound in Ramallah," said Mohammed Damaj, a 34-year-old resident of the refugee camp and an activist in Arafat's Fatah movement. Damaj said some Palestinians were disappointed Arafat did not press harder for a U.N. inquiry into the fighting at Jenin, which was scrapped when Israel resisted.

Palestinian leaders initially claimed hundreds were killed in the Jenin camp in what they described as a massacre by Israeli troops. Israel calls the Palestinian claims wild exaggerations, saying about 50 Palestinians were killed in the camp, most of them fighters.

International human rights groups have accused the Israeli military of abuses, but said there was no evidence of a massacre in Jenin. Aerial photos confirmed Israeli claims that only a small part of the camp was destroyed in the fighting between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian gunmen.

Israeli troops were gone from Palestinian cities Monday for the first time in six weeks, and the level of bloodshed has declined in recent days.

But early today, Israeli forces entered the West Bank village of Halhoul, north of Hebron, residents said. Two Palestinian intelligence officers were killed in exchanges of gunfire, they said, as Israeli forces searched the village. Israeli military sources said the purpose of the operation was to arrest suspected militants.

Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister are now dealing with the fallout from the violence of the preceding weeks, which included a wave of Palestinian suicide bombings and Israel's military incursion into the West Bank in search of militants.

Sharon suffered a public defeat early Monday when his hard-line Likud party ignored his pleas and voted overwhelmingly to oppose Palestinian statehood.

But the result was considered by many to be a boost turning Sharon into a voice of moderation and shoring up his popularity with mainstream Israelis.

"Ariel Sharon made his choice last night. He opted for the world central committee over the Likud Central Committee, and the viewers at home over the party activists in the hall," the Yediot Ahronot daily said.

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