PLO leader Yasser Arafat tried to soothe Israel on Wednesday over his call for a Muslim "jihad" over Jerusalem as both he and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres pledged to continue their peace process.
"We promise you that we will continue this line (of peace) in spite of all the challenges we face," Arafat said at a ceremony honoring Norway's role in brokering the watershed Israeli-PLO peace accord.
Peres, who said earlier that Arafat's apparent call for a jihad, or holy war, could derail the peace process, welcomed the clarification by the chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization that he had meant only to refer to a peaceful crusade. Peres accepted Arafat's explanation with a handshake.
"We are on a voyage . . . to make the old region face a new era," Peres told 400 guests at a ceremony hosted by former President Jimmy Carter on the day Israeli troops pulled out of most of the Gaza Strip as part of the peace accord.
At an earlier news conference, Arafat said he was the victim of a linguistic mix-up after Israeli radio Tuesday played a tape of him saying at a mosque in South Africa earlier this month: "Jihad will continue . . . our main battle is Jerusalem."
He told reporters he could use the word jihad as a peaceful religious term, as in the phrase "I will continue my jihad for peace" or in "I will continue my jihad for Christians and Muslims and Jews to pray together in Jerusalem."
"It seems that they are trying to squeeze me with false means," he said of his critics. He made the remarks, he said, in a commentary after prayers in South Africa, where he attended the inauguration of President Nelson Mandela.
Carter on Wednesday unveiled a stark black statue in central Oslo to honor Norway's peace work and handed over a check for $100,000 to the Institute of Applied Social Science, which helped foster the peace deal.
Norway last year hosted at least 14 secret rounds of talks between the PLO and Israel.
"We looked upon him (Arafat) as terrorist. He looked upon us as an occupier. We had to overcome the emotional maps before we could work on the geographical maps," Peres said when describing the initial phases of the peace process.
At the ceremony, Arafat called Peres his "cousin." The two were to meet privately later Wednesday to discuss their peace accord.