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Arafat Urges Palestinians To Defend West Bank, Gaza Subsidizing Of Israeli Settlers Called ‘Declaration Of War’ On Peace Process

Yasser Arafat’s Cabinet urged Palestinians on Saturday to take to the streets to defend the West Bank and Gaza Strip after Israel’s decision to subsidize Jewish settlements.

Palestinian leaders denounced Israeli tax breaks and grants to West Bank settlements as a “declaration of war” on the peace process.

The subsidies will lure more Israelis to settle in the areas, clouding the Palestinian dream of establishing a state on that land. Some 145,000 settlers live there amid 2 million Palestinians.

Arafat met with his Cabinet into the early morning to craft a response to Israel’s decision Friday. The appeal was their sharpest against Netanyahu’s 7-month-old government, and hinted strongly at violence.

“The Palestinian leadership calls on people everywhere to stand strongly to face the challenge of Netanyahu’s policies and to defend the land,” the Cabinet said.

According to its statement, Arafat said Netanyahu’s decision left the situation open to “dangerous possibilities.”

The new settlement decision came at a time of deep distrust between Israel and the Palestinians. Talks on a Hebron troop pull-back have been deadlocked. Palestinians are angry over Israel’s plans to build 132 homes for Jews in the heart of an Arab neighborhood in east Jerusalem, the district the Palestinians want to turn into a future capital.

Israeli security officials warned that renewed settlement activity “can cause even further deterioration of what is left of the peace process,” Israel radio reported Saturday.

The radio also reported that Israeli officials think Arafat was planning new riots against Israel even before its Cabinet decided on the subsidies.

“Arafat has not yet chosen the date, but he is planning the riots in the hope of reaping political benefits,” the radio quoted a senior security official as telling the cabinet Thursday, before it made the decision.

In September rioting, 61 Palestinians and 15 Israeli soldiers were killed, and Israeli security chiefs said Arafat started the violence by ordering crowds to attack Israeli soldiers.