Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said in an interview on Thursday Israel should have killed Yasser Arafat in 1982 when it had the Palestinian leader under siege in Beirut.
Sharon's comments underlined the depth of animosity between himself and Arafat after 16 months of violence and pushed the prospects of their holding peace talks even further back.
Recriminations over Sharon's remarks and new violence in which Israeli troops killed two Palestinian gunmen and one teenager on Thursday overshadowed efforts to persuade the United States to resume high-level mediation in the conflict.
But in a new sign of attempts to secure a truce, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said he expected to meet Palestinian parliamentary speaker Ahmed Korei on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in New York later on Thursday.
"The prime minister knows I am going to meet him (Korei) and knows what I will speak to him about," Peres told Israel's Channel One television.
Previous meetings between the two architects of interim Middle East peace deals have failed to stem the bloodshed, and Sharon has previously given Peres a limited mandate.
Sharon blames Arafat for failing to rein in militant groups during the 16-month-old uprising against Israeli occupation. Arafat accuses Sharon of blocking peace, and his aides say the Israeli leader has a vendetta to remove Arafat from the scene.
Their animosity goes back decades, to when Arafat was in Lebanon during Israel's invasion in 1982.
"In Lebanon it was agreed that Arafat would not be eliminated. To tell the truth, I'm sorry we didn't eliminate him," Sharon told the Israeli newspaper Maariv.
SHARON, ARAFAT LONG-TIME FOES
Sharon directed the invasion of Lebanon as defense minister, sending tanks and troops to the outskirts of Beirut where they bottled up Arafat and his PLO fighters before an internationally brokered deal led to the Palestinians' evacuation by sea.
"I think this reflects what has been always said -- that Sharon is trying to finish what he began in 1982," said Palestinian cabinet member Saeb Erekat, accusing Sharon of harboring "gangster intentions."
Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Pique, whose country holds the European Union presidency, said he had not seen Sharon's remarks but that, if confirmed, "they deserve our rejection." State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said such remarks "can be unhelpful."
Sharon spokesman Raanan Gissin said Israel had no plans to oust or kill Arafat, although the army has confined Arafat to his headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah following a wave of Palestinian suicide bombings.
VIOLENCE IN GAZA STRIP
Fresh violence erupted shortly before Middle East envoys from the United Nations, the European Union and Russia were due to meet U.S. officials in Washington to discuss the conflict.
Palestinian security sources said a Palestinian teenager wounded on Thursday by Israeli fire in the West Bank village Ausarin died late in the day. The army had no immediate comment.
Earlier on Thursday, Israeli forces killed two Palestinian gunmen from the Islamic militant group Hamas who ambushed a convoy headed for a Jewish settlement in the Gaza Strip.
Shortly after the attack, mortar shells hit a settlement in the Gush Katif bloc, injuring one Israeli. Palestinian witnesses said Israeli forces entered the nearby Khan Younis refugee camp and detained 10 Palestinians at a Gaza Strip checkpoint.
Israeli forces also entered a Palestinian Authority office in the West Bank town of el-Eizariyeh, confiscating documents and smashing furniture, Palestinian security officials said. The army said the building was illegally used by Palestinian security services.
Security guards at the Jewish settlement Elon Moreh shot at three Palestinians they said were trying to infiltrate the settlement, wounding two who were taken to hospital. Palestinians from the nearby West Bank village Azmut said the three were teenagers who were probably on a hike.
At least 826 Palestinians and 249 Israelis have been killed in the uprising that began in September 2000.
(China Daily February 1, 2002)