JERUSALEM (AP) – Israel backed off yesterday from threats to kill Yasser Arafat, while the incoming Palestinian prime minister ceded control over many Cabinet appointments to Arafat’s Fatah party despite Israeli demands that the veteran Palestinian leader be stripped of authority.

As Israeli leaders insisted they still intend to “remove” Arafat, the U.N. Security Council considered a Palestinian request to intervene. The involvement of the United Nations underscored the extent to which violence and tension have paralyzed peacemaking efforts.

The Palestinian ambassador stalked out of the council chamber when the Israeli ambassador began to speak.

The chief U.N. envoy to the Middle East, Terje Roed-Larsen, told the Security Council the peace process has broken down and that he fears even worse bloodshed lies ahead. He accused both Israelis and Palestinians of failing to “seriously and actively” address each other’s concerns, and stressed that Arafat is the democratically elected leader who “embodies Palestinian identity and national aspirations.”

Facing widespread international opposition to harsh action against Arafat, Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom yesterday sought to play down comments by Israeli leaders that killing Arafat is an option.

“It is not the official policy of the Israeli government,” Shalom told reporters. “We don’t speak about any killing. We didn’t speak about it before, and we don’t speak about it today.”

A day earlier, Vice Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said killing Arafat is a possibility, along with expelling him or further isolating him inside the West Bank compound where Arafat has remained for nearly two years, repeatedly besieged by Israeli troops.

While various countries sought to pressure Israel to soften its stance, Palestinian Prime Minister-designate Ahmed Qureia asked the Fatah party to choose candidates for up to 16 of his 24 Cabinet posts – a decision that gives Arafat significant control over the composition of the new Cabinet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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