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Arab Leaders Asked To Combat Militants Israel Asks Egypt, Jordan To Sway Arafat To Disarm Hamas

Dina Kraft Associated Press

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked the leaders of Egypt and Jordan on Friday to try to persuade Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to do more to combat terrorism.

Netanyahu told Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Jordan’s King Hussein that the peace process would be in danger unless there was a significant change in the Palestinian leader’s stance toward Islamic militants, a statement from Netanyahu’s office said.

Israel has blamed the Islamic militant group Hamas for a suicide bombing in a Jerusalem market last month in which 16 people were killed, including the two bombers. Netanyahu has demanded that Arafat round up Hamas activists, disarm the group and cut off its funding.

Israel imposed a closure on the West Bank and Gaza Strip, barring 100,000 Palestinian workers from their jobs, and withheld millions of dollars in tax refunds it owes the Palestinian Authority. In response, Palestinians have enforced a partial boycott of Israeli products.

Arafat met this week with opposition groups, including Hamas leaders, in a carefully staged show of Palestinian unity. The meetings infuriated Israeli leaders, who accused Arafat of appeasing Hamas.

The leader of one radical PLO faction, who is based in Damascus, has asked Israeli Arab legislators for help in getting the Israeli government’s permission to settle in the autonomous Palestinian areas. Nayef Hawatmeh, leader of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, told the Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot in an interview published Friday that he wanted to leave exile and help determine the future of his people.

“I want to be part of those decisions and I want to prevent Arafat from making decisions without consultation,” Hawatmeh told the newspaper.

Since the 1993 recognition between Israel and the PLO, several exiled PLO guerrilla leaders once wanted by Israel have been allowed to return to the West Bank and Gaza.

It was not clear whether Hawatmeh would be granted permission. He met last week in Damascus with Israeli Arab legislators who were in the Syrian capital for talks with Syrian President Hafez Assad.

Assad, meanwhile, held intensive talks Friday with Lebanese President Elias Hrawi on the situation in southern Lebanon.

They discussed Israel’s “motives which are hostile to the peace process,” presidential spokesman Jibran Kourieh said in a statement.

Israel and its Lebanese allies have been locked in a week of violent attacks and counterattacks with Hezbollah guerrillas in southern Lebanon. The violence has claimed 26 lives this month.

Syria, which has 40,000 troops in Lebanon, is the country’s main power broker. Hezbollah fighters are waging a guerrilla war to oust Israel’s army from southern Lebanon.

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