by Thalif Deen
(IPS) UNITED NATIONS --
leader Yasser Arafat, under Israeli siege since last month, received words of support from UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan Feb. 1.
"Arafat is the leader of the Palestinian people. By being isolated and virtually being under house arrest makes it difficult for him to lead," Annan said, referring to the Israeli armored blockade of Arafat's home and the offices of the Palestinian Authority.
"He's being asked to stop the violence. He's being asked to lead and yet, as leader, he and his institutions are under so much pressure that I really do not see how that is going to help."
"When the leader who is supposed to act is weakened to the point of impotence, we have a real problem on our hands," he declared.
Last week, the 15-member European Union (EU) urged the United States not to abandon Arafat. "Israel needs the Palestinian Authority and its elected president, Mr. Arafat, as a partner to negotiate with," the EU said.
In contrast to Washington, which has leaned heavily towards Israel, the EU has complained that Israeli forces have been destroying Palestinian infrastructure funded by European nations. It has estimated that Israeli bombing has destroyed some $15 million worth of European-financed projects.
EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels last week reserved the right to seek compensation from Israel for damages caused by its military forces in the West Bank and Gaza.
Hardline Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who has all but blamed Arafat for the recent wave of suicide bombings against Israeli targets, has virtually put Arafat under house arrest in his compound in the Israeli-occupied West Bank city of Ramallah.
The United States is considering cutting off all political links with Arafat.
In a newspaper interview last month, Sharon said he regretted that Israeli troops had not killed Arafat when they had the opportunity to so when Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982. Sharon orchestrated the invasion as then-defense minister.
"There was no agreement not to liquidate Yasser Arafat," Sharon said. "Actually, I am sorry we did not liquidate him."
According to the New York Times, an Israeli sniper had Arafat in his sights as he was about to board a ship for Tunis. But the sniper did not receive orders to fire.
Nasser Al-Kidwa, Palestinian permanent observer to the United Nations, said today Sharon's statement was "both dangerous and condemnable" and comes at a time when "Israeli occupying forces continue to impose a siege on the headquarters of President Arafat on top of the siege imposed on the whole of the Palestinian population."
According to the UN Relief Works Agency (UNRWA), he said, there are 72 permanent Israeli checkpoints in the West Bank, and nine in Gaza. "This is apart from the virtual isolation of many Palestinian cities, villages and refugee camps," he added.
In a letter to Annan Feb. 1, Al-Kidwa said Sharon's office had issued a statement on implementing a plan to "ring Jerusalem." The plan, he said, would include trenches, fences, blockades and other measures.
King Abdullah of Jordan, during a visit to the White House on Jan. 29, told President George W. Bush that Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan continued to stand by Arafat.
Any attempts to weaken Arafat, Abdullah said, would undermine all prospects of peace in the Middle East.
Amr Moussa, Secretary-General of the Arab League, on Jan. 30 expressed collective Arab support for Arafat.
Asked by a reporter as to why Arafat has not arrested people who were allegedly involved in terrorist activities against Israel, Moussa said; "Putting all responsibility on the shoulder of one party is really very destructive."
"If you ask me about the responsibility of both Mr. Sharon and Mr. Arafat, I would be able to respond to you," he added.
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