Arafat must not be assassinated, US tells Sharon
By David Rennie in Washington
The United States yesterday publicly reminded Israel that it opposes any bid to kill or exile the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat.
Richard Armitage, the deputy secretary of state, spoke out after the Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, appeared to threaten Mr Arafat and Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, leader of the Lebanese Hizbollah group, calling them "marked men".
Mr Armitage said: "Our position on such questions - the exile or assassination of Yasser Arafat - is very well known. We are opposed, and we have made that very clear to the government of Israel."
Earlier, 10 days after an Israeli missile strike killed Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the spiritual leader of the Hamas terrorist group, Mr Sharon hinted that Mr Arafat and the Hizbollah leader might be next in line.
"I wouldn't suggest either one of them should feel secure. I wouldn't propose that any insurance company give them coverage," Mr Sharon told the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz.
"Anyone who kills a Jew or harms an Israeli citizen, or sends someone to kill Jews is a marked man, period," Mr Sharon added.
His remarks effectively demanded some form of response from Washington, as the Bush administration strives to convince allies in the Arab world that it has not given carte blanche to Mr Sharon.
Washington was widely accused of fumbling its response to the killing of the Hamas leader last week. In the initial US reaction, the national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, stressed that Hamas was a terrorist group and Sheikh Yassin a terrorist planner.
A few hours later, US State Department and White House spokesmen changed tack and described the fatal attack by a helicopter gunship as "deeply troubling".
The remarks by Mr Armitage were a fairly mild shot across the bows for Mr Sharon, by Washington standards. Not only is he below cabinet rank, but Mr Sharon has made no secret of his belief that he can sidestep the foreign policy bureaucrats at the State Department, instead dealing directly with the White House, as well as his supporters in Congress and the Pentagon.
Mr Sharon faces intense pressure from hardline members of his ruling coalition over his proposal to remove all Jewish settlements from the Gaza Strip.
Though the Bush administration has formally sidelined Mr Arafat, declaring him an obstacle to peace, Washington's stated position is that Palestinians should choose their own alternative leader.
It urges them to elect a leader committed to eradicating terrorism as the only path to the creation of an independent Palestinian state.
The 11th Commandment:
You mustnâ€™t kill Arafat!