Arafat welcomes Spanish support for inquiry into killings

By Dan Trotta

Palestinian President Yasser Arafat on Saturday welcomed Spain’s support for an international inquiry into Israeli-Palestinian clashes in which at least 81 people, mainly Palestinians, have been killed.

“It is time to stop these killings against the Palestinian people,” Arafat told reporters at a seminar on security in the Mediterranean region on the island of Majorca.

“That can only happen…with an international commission including the sponsor of the peace process which is the United States, the European Union, (the U.N.’s) Annan, experts and others, Arabs and others,” Arafat said.

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar told a news conference he backed the idea of an enquiry, set up under United Nations auspices, which would pass its findings to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

“Given the events of the last few days, I have expressed my support for the creation of a verification commission,” Aznar said. The body would include representatives from Israel and the Palestinian Authority as well as the United States, the European Union and Arab nations, he added.

Violent clashes between Palestinians and Israelis continued in the Gaza Strip and on the Lebanese-Israeli border on Saturday claiming at least three more Palestinian lives.

At least 81 people, most of them Palestinians, have been killed since Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon enraged Palestinians by visiting a holy shrine in Jerusalem sacred to both Muslims and Jews on September 28.

Arafat said on Saturday the three new deaths raised the total to 113, well above the figure Reuters has compiled from Palestinian health and hospital officials.

Last week, the European Commission said it was ready to take part in any international inquiry into the violence and the U.N.’s Annan has backed the idea.

On Thursday U.N. human rights chief Mary Robinson called for an international inquiry to “determine responsibility and accountability” for killings and rights abuses in the Israel-Palestinian violence and urged Israel to facilitate a visit by independent U.N. human rights experts.

Israel has rejected such calls. Prime Minister Ehud Barak said on Friday he had warned French Prime Minister Jacques Chirac against supporting Arafat’s demands for such a body.

Arab states have called for a special session of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights to discuss the violence.

Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Pique, underlining Spain’s commitment to the idea of commission, told Reuters “Spain will try to make it concrete in terms of its composition and its conditions.”

Earlier, during a speech to the seminar in Formentor, Arafat accused the Israeli government of seeking a Jewish-only Jerusalem and of opposing the peace process.