Palestinians held in plot to kill Arafat

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JERUSALEM — Four Palestinians from the Hebron area have been arrested as suspects in what a Palestinian police official said Monday was a plot to kill Yasser Arafat organized by Abu Nidal.

"We have four people in detention whom we suspect might be connected to a plot to kill President Arafat," Hebron police chief Col. Tarek Zaid said Monday night. "We will be continuing our investigation and we hope to have more information soon."

Human rights activists confirmed the arrests but cast doubt as to whether the charges were authentic.

Senior Palestinian Authority security sources said they did not know of hard information of an Abu Nidal plot to kill Arafat, and one of them said the story could be an attempt to garner sympathy for the Palestinian leader.

Palestinian sources in Hebron said the men were arrested in their homes at the Arroub refugee camp on Sunday and are being held at the Palestinian Authority police station in Dahariya.

The men were identified as Subhi Jabari, Wa'al and Mahmoud Awaadel and Bassem Banat. A fifth man is being sought.

Palestinian police sources said the suspects received $40,000 from the Abu Nidal organization to carry out the assassination. They said the suspects were arrested before they were to leave for Jordan.

The sources said Abu Nidal was involved in the assassination of several PLO figures, including Sabri Khalaf (Abu Iyad) in the early 1990s.

Preventive Security chief Jibril Rajoub denies there have been arrests linked to a plot to kill Arafat. "This is untrue," he said.

A policeman in the Dahariya station said he did not know any suspects were being held there.

Arafat's wife, Suha, however, confirmed there have been plots to kill her husband.

"After [Yitzhak] Rabin died, I wonder who will be the next widow of the Middle East and who will the finger be pointed at," she told CNN.

Bassam Eid, director of the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group, said the arrests sounded similar to the detention of Sarih Hussein Mahamid in April 1995.

Mahamid was arrested immediately after entering the West Bank via the Allenby Bridge and was accused of plotting to kill Arafat as well as Rabin, Ariel Sharon and Rabbi Moshe Levinger.