Arafat illness spurs struggle for influence
Page 2 of 3 -- The issue of where Arafat might be buried emerged as a potential flash point given Israel's refusal to consider Arafat's long-expressed wish to be interred at the sacred Temple Mount complex in Jerusalem. Israeli officials said there was no deal to return his body in the event of his death. Palestinian officials warned of massive civil unrest if Israel refused to allow the return of his body.
Y-Net, a website operated by Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel's largest newspaper, quoted security sources as saying Israel's "greatest nightmare is that if Arafat dies, a Palestinian mob will snatch the body and try to bury it on the Temple Mount. . . . The security system in Israel is preparing for an uprising in the territories after Arafat's death, and maybe even before it."
News agencies reported last night that Israeli armed forces were moving to a state of high alert in response to deterioration of Arafat's health and rising tensions within Palestinian areas, but Israeli officials said there was no change in the status of their forces in recent days.
"We have not waited to make last-minute preparations," said Ra'anan Gissin, a senior aide to Sharon. "Preparations have been going on not just for a week" -- since the collapse in Arafat's condition became publicly known -- "but for several weeks prior, we were making preparations and changing deployments to preserve stability. Of course we are watching this closely, but that didn't begin in the last few days."
Arafat, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize along with Israeli leaders Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres, has been confined since the spring of 2002 to several rooms in his Ramallah compound, which was largely destroyed by Israeli shelling and bulldozers.
The compound has been under constant surveillance by Israeli troops and sharpshooters, keeping Arafat under virtual house arrest. Israel and the Bush administration have recently isolated Arafat and viewed him as an obstacle to peace because of his support for the Palestinian uprising, or intifadah, with its armed insurgency against Israeli occupying troops and a wave of suicide bombings targeting Israeli civilians.
Once described by Abba Eban, a former Israeli foreign minister, as a leader who "never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity," Arafat may -- in death -- open a new opportunity to restart deadlocked peace talks, analysts say.
A new Palestinian leadership would come at a time when Israel is planning to pull soldiers and settlers out of the Gaza Strip and amid growing pressure by Europe and Arab leaders on President Bush to do more to restart peace talks.
Bush, responding in Washington to questions about an early and unfounded report that Arafat was dead, said, "My first reaction is, God bless his soul. My second reaction is, we will continue to work for a free Palestinian state that is at peace with Israel." Continued...