PLO leader Yasser Arafat accused Muslim extremists Saturday of preparing to use the Gaza Strip as a “launching pad” for suicide attacks against Israelis to undermine the Israel-PLO peace accord.
A statement issued after a four-hour meeting of Arafat’s Cabinet quoted the Palestinian leader as saying that such attacks were aimed at embarrassing the Palestinian self-rule government “and giving Israel pretexts for delaying its withdrawal” from the West Bank.
“Military operations are being prepared to be initiated from the areas of the Palestinian Authority and there is a decision … that Gaza should be the launching pad for such operations,” the statement quoted Arafat as saying.
Although Arafat did not name the group allegedly planning the attacks, sources said he was referring to the militant Hamas movement.
Hamas, and the smaller Islamic Jihad, have been trying to derail Arafat’s autonomy agreement with Israel through attacks that have killed more than 60 Israelis in the past five months, most from suicide bombings.
Israel has demanded that Arafat crack down on Islamic extremists and has delayed pulling out its troops from parts of the West Bank.
The statement also said Palestinian police have arrested an unspecified number of children under the age of 11 who were being trained to carry out suicide bombings.
Three teenagers, one a member of Hamas and two from Islamic Jihad, also confessed they had been asked by their groups to carry out attacks in Israel, the statement said.
“Charlatans wrap them up in shrouds, lower them into tombs and pray over them before they carry out the operations they had groomed them for, taking advantage of their innocence and their poverty,” Arafat was quoted as telling his Cabinet.
Arafat’s remarks came a week after an explosion gutted a Hamas hideout in a crowded residential area in Gaza City. Police say it was a bomb factory and the explosion was an accident.