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Arafat warns Israeli attack is imminent

By DALAL SAOUD

BEIRUT, Lebanon, March 28 (UPI) -- Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat told Arab leaders meeting in Beirut that Israel was preparing to launch a large-scale attack within hours against Palestinian territories, according to Arafat's foreign minister, Faruk Qaddumi, on Thursday.

Speaking to Yemeni President Ali Abdallah Saleh by telephone, Qaddumi reported, Arafat said some 150 Israeli tanks were besieging Ramallah where foreigners had been asked to leave for their own safety.

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"Arafat expects Israel to launch a large-scale attack within the coming hours," Qaddumi said. The situation was tense, he said, and American non-governmental organizations in Ramallah were evacuating the West Bank city.

Arafat urged the Arab leaders to take measures for a unified and firm Arab position to confront possibilities in the near future.

Observers, Qaddumi said, were expecting harsh retaliation for a Hamas suicide attack that killed 20 people and wounded more than 100 others. The bomb attack was carried out while U.S. special envoy Anthony Zinni was still in the region seeking to get both sides to agree to a cease-fire.

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Qaddumi denounced what he termed U.S. hesitation and failure to adopt a firm stand. The call for a cease-fire was a deceitful slogan, he said, adding an Israeli withdrawal has become "inevitable and there is no escape from it as a prelude for a political settlement."

He said the basis of the Israeli-Palestinian settlement should be the implementation of international resolutions which call for a complete Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories, removal of Jewish settlements, guaranteed freedom of worship, the right of the Palestinians to self-determination and the return of the Palestinian refugees.

The West Bank and Gaza Strip would be placed under U.N. supervision for a transitional period, he said, and a Palestinian state would be established with Jerusalem its capital while the U.N. Security Council would provide guarantees of peace.

The United States was turning a blind eye to Israeli terrorist attacks, he said.

"This means that the Arab-Israeli conflict will last a long times as the United States is not taking deterrent measures against Israel and drawing up a time-table for the Israeli withdrawal."

Thursday's summit session also witnessed an Iraqi-Saudi rapprochement when Crown Prince Abdullah entered the conference room hugging Izzat Ibrahim al-Duri, deputy president of the Iraqi Revolutionary Council. Both were applauded by the conferees.

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Qaddumi and his Palestinian delegation walked out of the summit meeting Wednesday but returned Thursday after intensive efforts by Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries to get them to come back. The Palestinian team withdrew after accusing Lebanese President Emile Lahoud of preventing the broadcast by satellite of a speech by Arafat to the Beirut meeting. The Israelis have confined Arafat to Ramallah for the past four months.

Amid applause, Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri escorted Qaddumi into the summit conference room Thursday. Lahoud welcomed the returned Palestinian delegation, declaring that "Arafat's voice reaches the Arabs and the world through this summit."

In the Palestinian territories, Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a top aide to Arafat, told reporters the Palestinian Authority chairman had received telephone calls from European Union foreign policy representative Javier Solana, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan; and German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer.

Abu Rudeineh said that the three leaders and Arafat discussed the explosive situation in the region, adding that the calls were part of international efforts to end the ongoing bloodshed between Israel and the Palestinians.

In preparation for the expected Israeli attack, all PA civil, security and police buildings and headquarters in the Gaza Strip were evacuated. Israeli army Apache helicopters flew over Gaza City, but did not attack.

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(With additional reporting by Saud Abu Ramadan from Gaza.)

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