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Sharon talks tough on Arafat

A Palestinian who was arrested during an Israeli army operation in the Gaza Strip is taken to the Nahal Oz army base Monday.Gadi Kabalo / Reuters
/ Source: The Associated Press

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said his pledge to the United States not to harm Yasser Arafat no longer holds, declaring that the Palestinian leader and the head of Lebanon’s Hezbollah are potential targets for assassination.

In an interview set for broadcast Monday by Israeli Army Radio, Sharon also said for the first time that under his plan to leave the Gaza Strip, evacuated Jewish settlements would not be destroyed.

Sharon said that three years ago he promised President Bush that Israel would not harm Arafat, but since then circumstances had changed.

“Arafat was (then) given red carpet treatment everywhere in the world. Today it is clear to the United States and to everyone just who Arafat is,” Sharon said. Israel and the United States are boycotting Arafat, charging that he is responsible for Palestinian violence.

On March 22, Israel assassinated Sheik Ahmed Yassin, founder and leader of the violent Islamic Hamas movement, and officials said Israeli forces would mete out similar treatment to others involved in the organization or execution of attacks on Israel.

Asked by the Army Radio interviewer if that meant Arafat and Hezbollah’s Sheik Hassan Nasrallah were targets, Sharon replied, “Whoever aims to kill Jews, whoever sends murderers to kill Jews, is marked for death.”

Israel accuses Arafat of not only ignoring violent groups operating from territory under his control, but also actively encouraging attacks against Israelis. Nasrallah said earlier this week that his Lebanese militant group will help Hamas avenge Yassin’s death.

Hezbollah and Israel fought a bloody 18-year guerrilla war in south Lebanon before Israel’s withdrawal in 2000, and the two are still bitter enemies.

Sharon said he had not sought American approval for any strike against Arafat or Nasrallah.

“I didn’t ask permission from anyone,” he said. “I want to emphasize again that anyone who kills Jews because they are Jews is marked for death.” Hamas has claimed responsibility for suicide bomb attacks that have killed hundreds of Israelis during more than three years of conflict.

In this picture released by the Palestinian Authority, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is seen during a meeting at his headquarters in the West Bank town of Ramallah, Sunday April 4, 2004. Arafat brushed off Israeli threats to kill him, as world leaders criticized Israeli prime Minister Sharon for suggesting an act that could plunge the region into further chaos. (AP Photo/Palestinian Authority, Hussein Hussein)Hussein Hussein / PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY

Sharon made similar threats in other interviews ahead of the Jewish Passover holiday, which starts at sundown Monday.

In the Army Radio broadcast, he also said Israel would not demolish buildings left behind in Jewish settlements to be vacated in a proposed withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.

He said that Israel intended to get the property evaluated by international organizations and had already raised the issue with the World Bank.

When Israel pulled out of the Sinai Desert in 1982 under terms of its peace accord with Egypt. it destroyed the Jewish settlements there. Sharon was defense minister at the time.

With peace moves frozen, Sharon has proposed a unilateral Israeli pullout from the Gaza Strip and a much smaller withdrawal in the West Bank. He has said that the moves are needed to fend off hostile international initiatives and reduce friction with the Palestinians.