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Under Pressure, Arafat Cracks Down On Militants

Sun., March 10, 1996

With top Hamas leaders under arrest and consultations with the CIA under way, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat appeared Saturday to be making the hard choices the United States and Israel have been demanding.

Arafat met with a delegation of senior CIA officials who arrived in Gaza to discuss ways to boost security measures against Muslim militants.

The militant Islamic group Hamas has claimed responsibility for four suicide bombings since Feb. 25 in Israel that have claimed 57 victims’ lives and threatened the Israeli-Palestinian peace accords.

The CIA visit comes ahead of the international anti-terrorism summit planned Wednesday in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh. President Clinton, his Russian counterpart Boris Yeltsin and numerous European and Middle Eastern heads of state will attend.

In a leaflet, Hamas said it “decided to resume the martyrdom attacks against the Zionists” and that a crackdown by Arafat would “destroy completely any understanding or future agreement” between Hamas and the PLO.

The leaflet, circulated Saturday in Gaza, condemned the summit as “an international conspiracy against the struggle of the people and an attempt to save the Zionists from defeat.”

Arafat had been seeking political accommodation with Hamas until the recent spate of bombings, hoping they would become a legitimate opposition party and would abandon their aim of destroying Israel.

Since the bombings, however, he accused Hamas of trying to “kill the Palestinian dream” and promised tougher action.

That came Friday night with the arrest of 12 Hamas activists in Gaza, including one of its founders, Ibrahim Yazouri, and another leader, Mohsen Abu Aita. They were the first such arrests since Arafat consolidated his leadership in January elections.

In addition, Palestinian security boss Jibril Rajoub was forced to resign on Friday because he refused to carry out Arafat’s orders to arrest Hamas leaders, a well-placed Palestinian source said.

Israel Army radio said Arafat was unhappy about Rajoub’s intelligence gathering activities following the attacks in Israel.

His supposed successor, Hussein Sheik, confirmed the report, but Rajoub denied it. Arafat’s office was not immediately available for comment.

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