Elections won’t be held until pullout, says Arafat


JERUSALEM, AP

Under pressure and already facing at least one challenger, Yasser Arafat says he’ll put his name on a ballot for the first time in six years. But he added that no Palestinian will go to the polls until Israeli troops leave Palestinian areas they entered after violence broke out 19 months ago.

On Saturday, a Palestinian father remained in the hospital after his seven-year-old son Amid Abu-Sir was shot dead by a stray Israeli bullet. The soldiers were operating in the Askar refugee camp, one of dozens of Palestinian communities where troops remain despite an end last week to a six-week West Bank offensive aimed at rooting out militants.

Mohamed Abu-Sir said he and his son were on their way to prayers Friday when both of them were shot by stray bullets fired at Palestinian demonstrators nearby.

The father was hit by shrapnel in the leg and his son was shot in the chest. As the small boy was wheeled into the hospital on a gurney, his blood soaked the blue hospital bed sheets and he screamed in agony. He died soon afterward. The Israeli army said they were investigating the shooting.

Overnight, a Palestinian was shot by a security guard as he infiltrated the Jewish settlement of Beit El, north of the Palestinian city of Ramallah. The Palestinian, who was not identified, apparently tried to enter the homes of some settlers and stabbed the guard before he was shot, Israeli radio reported.

Three other Palestinians were killed Friday, including an Israeli Arab woman who was shot dead when soldiers opened fire on her taxi, an armed Palestinian who tried to infiltrate an Israeli settlement in the Gaza Strip and a teen-age boy who died when a booby-trap exploded in the Jenin refugee camp. Residents of the camp said the homemade bomb was planted last month by armed Palestinians who fought Israeli troops there in one of the bloodiest battles of Israel’s operation ‘Defensive Shield.’

Although the offensive was wrapped up last week, Israeli troops remain in many Palestinian areas, continue to carry out raids in major population centers, control West Bank roads and prevent Palestinians from traveling within their own areas.

Palestinians argue that the Israeli presence makes it impossible to carry out elections or the reforms wanted by the United States, Europe, Israel and many Palestinians, who believe that Arafat’s Palestinian Authority has become corrupt and autocratic.

“We are looking to run the election within six months,” said Palestinian Planning Minister Nabil Shaath. “But these elections need an Israeli withdrawal to positions held before Sept. 28, 2000,” when fighting broke out between Israelis and Palestinians. Please see ARAFAT on page

Arafat was to meet later Saturday with members of the Palestinian election committee.

Asked Friday whether elections could take place before an Israeli withdrawal, Arafat said: “Definitely not.”

“It is very difficult to have elections with occupation,” he added.

Such a pullback is part of a truce plan, whose author, CIA chief George Tenet, is expected to meet in the coming weeks with security officials from both sides to discuss how to end the violence which has killed more than 1,600 Palestinians and left nearly 500 dead on the Israeli side.

An Israeli official dismissed the Palestinian calls for a withdrawal. “On the one hand he talks about reforms, now he has an excuse not to execute those reforms,” said Raanan Gissin, an adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. “He knows very well that as long as he doesn’t take any action against terrorism, the Israeli forces will have to remain there.”

On Thursday, the Palestinian parliament demanded that the Cabinet be disbanded and a new one be formed within 45 days. It also called for elections by the beginning of 2003.

Hours later, Arafat got his first challenger — Abdel Sattar Qassem, a Palestinian political scientist and dissident jailed for 14 months by Arafat’s security forces. Qassem, a 53-year-old professor at An Najah University in the West Bank city of Nablus, said Friday he would run on an anti-corruption platform.

Qassem is Western-educated and secular, but sympathizes with Islamic militant groups and supports suicide attacks against Israeli civilians. He does not recognize Israel, and opposes the interim peace agreements Arafat has made with Israel.

Iyad Sarraj, a Palestinian human rights advocate, suggested in an article Saturday that Hanan Ashrawi, a legislator and commentator who is well-known internationally, would make a good head of government.

In the Palestinian daily Al-Quds, he wrote that Ashrawi could take up a new position of prime minister while Arafat would take on the role of head of state.

Some Israelis and Americans have suggested that Arafat be moved to a more symbolic position.