JERUSALEM Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon held Yasser Arafat personally responsible yesterday for a massive cache of weapons intercepted in the Red Sea, declaring the Palestinian Authority president “a bitter enemy.””
At a news conference in the Red Sea port of Eilat, where the Israelis put the weapons on show, Sharon accused Arafat of attempting to thrust the region into a wider war. He said the arms seizure exposed “the true face”” of the Palestinian Authority.
Sharon”s government, at a Cabinet meeting earlier in the day, threatened to take even tougher action against the Palestinian Authority. Formally declaring it an enemy would open up a catalog of potential diplomatic and military reprisals.
The Palestinian Authority, for its part yesterday, strongly denied any involvement in the 50-ton shipment and offered to cooperate in an investigation into the weapons” provenance. Palestinian officials accused Israel of a propaganda trick intended to undermine the mission of U.S. special Middle East envoy Anthony C. Zinni who, despite the arms controversy, is ending a four-day visit today on a relatively optimistic note.
“After four days of intensive discussions with Israelis and Palestinians, it is clear that, while serious challenges remain, there are real opportunities for progress,”” State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said yesterday in Washington.