Arafat kisses, makes up with Hamas, Islamic Jihad

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JERUSALEM — Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat threw down the gauntlet to Israel this week, telling Islamic militant leaders that he would not submit to Israeli demands that he crack down on terrorism.

During a meeting Wednesday in the Gaza Strip that the Palestinian Authority described as "national unity talks," Arafat hugged and kissed leaders of the Hamas and Islamic Jihad movements.

In a reference to the 1987-1993 Palestinian uprising, or intifada, he said that "all options are open to the Palestinian people," including a renewal of the revolt.

Israelis "think we will submit to their conditions," Arafat said. "I say to them, the Palestinian people are tough [and] don't submit except to their own wishes."

In the wake of last month's twin suicide bombing attack in Jerusalem, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said there would be no resumption of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations unless Arafat carried out mass arrests of suspected terrorists.

Arafat has so far refused to do so, saying he will not accept "Israeli dictates."

His stance marks a sharp departure from the arrests he sanctioned after previous terrorist strikes against Israeli targets.

Wednesday's meeting in Gaza drew criticism from Israeli officials, who accused Arafat of trying to appease terrorists. But the United States stopped short of criticizing Arafat's meetings with the militants.

"We don't see the role of Hamas or Islamic Jihad in the peace process," U.S. State Department spokesman James Rubin told reporters. "They are the enemies of peace, and they don't belong in any serious discussion of peace."

But, he added, American officials would judge Arafat in terms of "deeds," which he described as the "coin of the realm when it comes to fighting terrorism."

Israel imposed a closure on the West Bank and Gaza after the July 30 suicide attack and has continued to withhold a large portion of the tax revenues it owes the Palestinian Authority.

The militant leaders met with Arafat to create a united front against Israeli policy, according to the Palestinian communications minister, Imad Falouji.

"The purpose of the meeting is to integrate the Hamas and other opposition groups into a patriotic front in order to address the challenges facing the Palestinian Authority," Falouji said.

"The only way to stand against Israel's hard-line positions is to do some internal housecleaning and unify the ranks."

Islamic Jihad and Hamas members stayed away from a similar dialogue that Arafat convened in April in the West Bank town of Nablus.

At that time, the militant leaders were protesting the mass arrests that Arafat had ordered following a wave of suicide bombings in Israel last year.

The Hamas leader in Damascus, Abu Mohammed Mustafa, called on Arafat this week to join the opposition struggle against Israel or step down.

"We are demanding that Arafat admit that the Oslo Accords have failed. He now has two options: to declare a general call for a new intifada and to join the Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the struggle, or to admit his failure and quit," Mustafa was quoted as saying.

Arafat was slated to hold a second national unity meeting Thursday in the West Bank town of Ramallah.