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Arafat Says Terror Must Stop, Promises Elections in January

By Mitchell Landsberg
LOS ANGELES TIMES -- RAMALLAH, WEST BANK

Speaking to the largest gathering of Palestinian legislators in two years, Yasser Arafat on Monday condemned terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians while excoriating Israel for attacks on Palestinians.

In a rambling speech delivered at times in a near-whisper, the Palestinian Authority president also promised elections in early January, prompting catcalls from some legislators who demanded that he deliver an official decree setting the date.

Arafat, who appeared weak and at times fumbled with his microphone, apologized early in his 70-minute speech, saying, “I’m sorry, I have a bit of flu.”

In what one Palestinian legislator described as a bid to regain international acceptance, Arafat repeatedly condemned terrorism, “whether it is carried out by state, by group or by individuals.” He expressed sympathy for Americans preparing for the first anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, which he called an “unprecedented crime.”

In an apparent reference to suicide bomb attacks by Palestinians that have taken a heavy toll on Israel, Arafat said, “Our national interest and the necessity to maintain international support for our just cause force us to reiterate our stand in condemning all these acts of terror against Israeli civilians, but also to condemn every act of terror against Palestinian civilians.”

Israeli leaders were largely dismissive of Arafat’s remarks, saying they wanted action, not words.

“Arafat’s statement is worthless,” said Tzachi Hanegbi, a leading member of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s Likud Party. He called the Palestinian leader “a pathological liar.”

Another Likud member of parliament, Danny Naveh, said Israeli authorities should have prevented the Palestinian Legislative Council from meeting at all.

“It would have been better not to make a move which may breathe new life into Arafat,” he said. “This meeting may reinforce his legitimacy, something which I believe isn’t in our interest.”

Sharon and President Bush have said they don’t consider Arafat a trustworthy partner in peace negotiations and have called for new Palestinian leadership. However, Arafat is considered almost certain to win re-election as president of the Palestinian Authority.

Legislators have been pressing Arafat to set a date for elections, both for president and for parliament. Parliamentary elections haven’t been held since 1996.