Yielding to U.S. and Israeli pressure, Yasser Arafat gave the go-ahead Tuesday for disarming his Muslim militant opponents despite fears it might unleash a civil war.
Arafat’s security forces rounded up dozens more suspected militants, for a two-day total of 150 detentions. A new military tribunal sentenced Omar Shalah, a leader of the Islamic Jihad group, to life in prison for “inciting civil strife.”
“I think we are entering a critical stage,” Palestinian Justice Minister Freih Abu Medein said of the escalating confrontation between rafat’s government and the opposition.
The crackdown prompted cries of revenge from Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the two groups Arafat targeted after they carried out suicide bombings Sunday that killed seven Israelis and an American near Jewish settlements in PLO-ruled Gaza.
“The Palestinian authority is crossing the red line,” warned Ibrahim Nasman, a Hamas official and administrator at Gaza City’s Islamic University. “There will be a spontaneous uprising against the Palestinian authority.”
Fatima Shalah, mother of the Islamic Jihad leader sentenced Tuesday, reacted angrily. “After what Arafat did to my son, I am ready to kill him by blowing myself up next to him,” she declared.