Sources say he uses funds to finance Al Aqsa Brigades
SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
Monday, June 23, 2003
Matthew Kalman, Chronicle Foreign Service
Ramallah, West Bank -- Sources close to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat say he has raised $2. 5 million from Libyan leader Moammar Khadafy to finance continued terror attacks against Israel, undermining efforts by reformist Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas to achieve a cease-fire as the first step on the U.S.-backed road map toward peace.
The sources say the Libyan money has been paid into bank accounts controlled by Arafat in Beirut and Cairo to underwrite the terror activities of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the paramilitary wing of Arafat's Fatah movement.
Members of the Brigades confirmed to this reporter last week that they were receiving funds from Arafat's office despite efforts by the new Palestinian government headed by Abbas to end attacks against Israel.
Israeli and Palestinian officials say privately that the Arafat-Khadafy link is part of a series of secret diplomatic moves by Arafat designed to undermine Abbas, who is engaged in intensive talks with Palestinian extremists on the terms of a cease-fire.
The Al Aqsa Brigades continue to embarrass Abbas, even though both he and they belong to the Fatah movement. Last Tuesday night, Al Aqsa claimed responsibility for killing a 7-year-old Israeli girl and wounding her 2-year- old sister in a shooting attack on their family's car as it drove along one of Israel's major motorways near the border with the West Bank.
Al Aqsa is also suspected of involvement in a shooting attack near Ramallah on Friday that occurred during a Jerusalem press conference held by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell. Tzvi Goldstein, 47, a settler originally from New York, was killed, and his 73-year-old parents were badly injured.
Late Sunday, four members of the Brigades were killed in the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun, apparently when a bomb they were planting detonated prematurely. Loudspeaker trucks drove through the area later, saying that the four had died while "fulfilling their national duty," a phrase used in the past to announce accidental deaths.
MINISTER IN TUNIS
Arafat remains isolated in the wreckage of his headquarters compound in Ramallah. The secret diplomatic contacts are being conducted on his behalf by Farouk Kaddoumi, the foreign minister for the Palestine Liberation Organization, who is based in Tunis and is not part of the Palestinian Authority's government.
Nabil Shaath, the Palestinian Authority's foreign minister, is strongly opposed to Kaddoumi's activities and has threatened to resign in protest, according to Palestinian officials.
Kaddoumi flew to Damascus this month on another top-secret mission on behalf of Arafat to meet with Khaled Mashal, Hamas' political and military leader, whose headquarters are in the Syrian capital. Kaddoumi carried a message from Arafat denouncing Abbas' peace diplomacy and distancing himself from Abbas' recent conciliatory speech toward Israel at the Aqaba summit.
According to Palestinian officials within Arafat's close circle and reports in the Arabic press, Arafat has spoken to Mashal several times by telephone since the Aqaba summit. Hamas sources say that Arafat is trying to set up a joint strategy between the pair to undermine Abbas.
Kaddoumi has a history of carrying out sensitive, deniable missions for Arafat. He was revealed as the go-between in secret contacts last year between Iraq and Libya aimed at providing a safe haven for Saddam Hussein. Those talks,
which were abandoned after being revealed by British intelligence, were conducted by Kaddoumi with Hussein's chief of staff, Abid Hamid Mahmud al- Tikriti, who was captured by U.S. forces in Iraq last week.
British intelligence officials said the PLO had been paid more than $1 million by Hussein for Kaddoumi's failed efforts.
On his diplomatic mission to the area on Friday, Powell branded Hamas an "enemy of peace," and refused to condemn Israel's policy of assassinating alleged terrorists classed as "ticking bombs" -- those preparing attacks.
Less than 24 hours later, Israeli forces in Hebron gunned down Abdullah Kawasmeh, believed to be the West Bank commander of Hamas' terrorist wing. Israeli security officials said Kawasmeh was the mastermind behind the June 11 Jerusalem suicide bombing in which 17 people were killed.
Speaking to a World Economic Forum meeting in Jordan on Sunday, Powell said the killing of Kawasmeh was "cause for concern that could impede progress of the road map." But he said the blame for such incidents fell squarely on the terrorist groups.
"We can talk about what the Israelis ought to be doing, what the Palestinian Authority ought to be doing," Powell said. "But it begins with putting the blame first and foremost on organizations such as Hamas, . . . Islamic Jihad and others which continue to conduct terrorist attacks requiring response from the Israeli side and keeping the day further away when the Palestinian people can find peace and security."
SHARON TO IGNORE ROAD MAP
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, meanwhile, told his Cabinet that Israel can continue construction activities in Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, despite a freeze required by the road map unveiled by President Bush.
"Just build, but just don't publicize it," Sharon said, according to a Cabinet official who briefed reporters after the meeting. Israel TV's Channel 1 said he had told the ministers that settlement building "isn't part of the road map, it's my personal commitment."
Under the peace plan, Israel would have to observe the building ban in the coming months, after the Palestinians begin dismantling militias and Israel removes dozens of settlement outposts. Sharon has declared many times that he will not compromise over what he regards as Israel's security, indicating that he will not carry out all the road map's requirements regarding settlements.