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Arafat angers allies by arresting PLO official
By Phil Reeves in Bethlehem
17 January 2002
Yasser Arafat faced a storm of internal protest over the arrest by his security services of one of the most senior PLO officials in a desperate attempt to salvage his international position.
The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) condemned the detention of its secretary-general, Ahmed Saadat, as "unacceptable" and "very dangerous". PFLP officials said that Mr Saadat, who has been in hiding for months, was arrested after being "cheated" into attending a meeting on Tuesday with Tawfiq Tirawi, the head of Palestinian intelligence.
They accused Mr Arafat still barred by Israeli tanks and roadblocks from leaving the West Bank town of Ramallah of caving in to pressure from Israel's prime minister, Ariel Sharon, and the United States.
Mr Sharon accuses the PFLP leader of organising the assassination of the hard-right Israeli cabinet minister, Rechavam Ze'evi, in October after the killing by Israel of the previous PFLP leader, Abu Ali Mustafa. Hundreds of Mr Saadat's supporters marched yesterday in Ramallah, Bethlehem and Gaza City in angry protest at his arrest.
The move appears to be an attempt by Mr Arafat to win back ground internationally. The so-called "quartet" the European Union, United Nations, the US and Russia have been urging him to throw militants behind bars, without charge if necessary. Palestinian opposition groups believe this violates the principles of democracy and good governance that the US was pushing during the Oslo negotiations. Israeli government spokesmen treated the arrest with scepticism yesterday.
Mr Arafat's position deteriorated further yesterday as details emerged of the latest victim of violence. Avi Boaz, 71, was an American construction engineer who had lived in Israel and the occupied territories for 40 years. On Tuesday evening, he was abducted in Beit Jala and executed by guerrillas who pumped more than 20 bullets into his car.
Tributes to Mr Boaz yesterday spoke of a man who crossed the gulf that divides both sides of the conflict. He had a Palestinian business partner, many Arab friends and built homes for Palestinians. Though his wife and daughter are Israelis and he was Jewish Mr Boaz did not take on Israeli citizenship. A relative, Yifat Cohen-Habbad, told mourners at his funeral: "He would call his many Palestinian friends 'my extended family'."
His murder was claimed by the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, a militia unofficially affiliated with Fatah, the mainstream organisation nominally headed by Mr Arafat himself. The guerrillas said they were avenging the assassination of one of their leaders.
And it appeared yesterday that a 30-year-old Palestinian resident of Jerusalem was killed in a Palestinian ambush after the attackers mistakenly identified him as an Israeli Jew.
So far the contempt felt towards Mr Arafat and the Palestinian Authority (PA) by Palestinian opposition groups is outweighed by their loathing for their Israeli occupiers. A PFLP activist, Majed Nassar, said: "I think that Yasser Arafat has made a mistake because once you start giving in to Israel's demands, there will never be an end. But we are not going to fall in to the trap of fighting the PA."
Mr Saadat, 48, has served more than 11 years in Israeli jails, and before his election as PFLP secretary-general had been arrested three times in the 1990s by the PA.
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