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PM-designate Renew Cease-fire Offer to Israel

Arafat, Palestinian PM-designate Renew Cease-fire Offer to Israel

President Yasser Arafat welcomed on Wednesday Yemen’s call for an emergency Arab summit meeting in Sana’a to discuss the Israeli government’s decision last week to “remove” the elected Palestinian leader, and together with his Prime Minister-designate renewed a cease-fire offer to Israel as a prerequisite to the resumption of “roadmap” peace talks.

During an interview on Wednesday, Israel’s Channel 2 TV asked Arafat if there was a possibility for a new truce.

"Of course," he said. "You're invited. The announcement was made yesterday," referring to an offer made by his national security adviser, Jibril Rajoub, on Tuesday.

On Israel’s Channel 10 TV, Arafat said contacts were under way with all Palestinian factions over a cease-fire.

"Even the Islamic Jihad said they are willing to respect a cease-fire, and we are continuing our contacts with Hamas," he said.

In recent days, Hamas leaders abroad have been in touch by phone with top Palestinian officials to discuss a possible truce, and a senior Palestinian official told AFP Hamas is now signaling it would stop its attacks in exchange for a halt of Israel’s extra-judicial assassinations of its members, which Israel dubs “targeted killings.”

Hamas spiritual leader Ahmed Yassin delivered the message recently in a meeting with member of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Zakaria al-Agha and envoy sent by Arafat, in Gaza City, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Yassin survived an Israeli extra-judicial assassination attempt earlier this month.

However, Hamas has not so far confirmed these reports officially.

Palestinian prime minister-designate Ahmad Qurei (Abu Alaa), the present Speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), confirmed Wednesday he will offer Israel a comprehensive truce.

Qurei said once he has formed a new government, he will "call on the Israelis to agree to a mutual cease-fire" to clear the way for a reopening of negotiations and progress on the stalled “roadmap” peace plan.

He was tapped by Arafat to replace Mahmoud Abbas, who resigned on September 6. He announced Tuesday that he is expected to form his cabinet by Saturday.

The Fatah Central Committee was to meet Thursday in the West Bank town of Ramallah to choose candidates for 16 of the 24 spots in the new Palestinian Cabinet, Palestinian media reported.

Originally, Qurei wanted to form an “emergency-crisis” Cabinet with about eight ministers, but Palestinian legislators objected that the Basic Law has no stipulations for such a cabinet.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath said US officials made clear they don’t oppose the idea of a cease-fire but want assurances from both sides to carry out obligations under the “roadmap,” which calls for an end to the violence and the establishment of a Palestinian state by 2005.

Israel on August 21 aborted a truce declared by Palestinian factions on June 29 when its occupation forces extra-judicially assassinated Hamas politburo member Ismael Abu Shanab, after a series of similar assassinations that killed at least 13 Palestinian activists and several bystanders, including an old man and children.

The Israeli government later rejected a new truce offer by Abu Alaa.

Separately, Arafat dismissed the United States veto that blocked a UN vote Tuesday, which condemned Israeli plans for his “removal”, a move, which the Palestine National Authority (PNA) said undermined US claims to act as an honest broker in the peace process.

"The international silence will not make us weak," the Palestinian leader told supporters at his battered compound in the West Bank town of Ramallah. "We do not care about any resolution here or there and we are stronger than any decision."

Palestinian negotiations cabinet minister Saeb Erakat called Washington’s decision to veto the Security Council resolution a “black day” for the United Nations and a “license” for Israel to go ahead with its decision to “remove” Arafat by exile or by assassination.

"I hope that Israel does not understand the decision to kill the resolution as a license to kill President Arafat," he told AFP.

Similarly, Palestinian cabinet affairs minister Yasser Abed Rabbo said the US move had weakened trust that Washington would act as an honest broker between the two sides.

"This veto only encourages extremists here and in the region and only weakens trust in the American policy, mainly regarding implementation of the roadmap," he told reporters in Ramallah in reference to the US-sponsored peace plan.

Eleven of the 15 Security Council nations voted in favor of the measure, which was sponsored by Syria, and three members abstained.

Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom hailed the veto and the abstentions as a rebuff to "extremist" Arab governments.

"It was very important to show these extremists that every time they want to bring an anti-Israeli resolution to the Security Council, it won't get an automatic majority," he said.

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