As Hamas vowed to carry out more suicide bombings in defiance of this week’s world summit against terrorism, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat met Saturday with senior CIA officials to discuss how to combat the Islamic extremists.
Arafat spoke for about an hour with the CIA delegation headed by Deputy Director George J. Tenet at an office near the Erez checkpoint, on the border between Israel and the Palestinian-run Gaza Strip.
Israeli television reported that Arafat had asked the CIA for technical and logistics support in fighting Hamas, which has claimed responsibility for four suicide bombings in the past two weeks that have taken 62 lives and threatened the survival of the Israeli-Palestinian peace accords.
The CIA offered Arafat information on Hamas’ network of support throughout the Middle East, Israeli television reported.
Hamas’ military wing said Saturday that it has decided to resume suicide bombings in Israel, calling them “martyrdom attacks against the Zionists.”
In a leaflet circulated in the Gaza Strip, Hamas said that a crackdown by Arafat will “destroy completely any understanding or future agreement” between Hamas and the Palestinian leadership. And the leaflet condemned Wednesday’s “summit of the peacemakers,” to be hosted by President Clinton and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, as “an international conspiracy against the struggle of the people and an attempt to save the Zionists from defeat.”
In related developments Saturday:
* Arab leaders considered whether they would attend the summit as Mubarak attempted to broaden its appeal by casting it as a forum on the entire Mideast peace process, not just terrorism in Israel.
* Arafat’s crackdown on Hamas continued, with all but one of its political leaders in jail.
* The Palestinian leader and his West Bank security chief were locked in a dispute, reportedly over how to crack down on the Islamic militants.
Among those who have agreed to attend the one-day antiterrorism conference in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el Sheik are Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin, Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres, Jordan’s King Hussein, Arafat and the leaders of many leading Western nations. But the success of the conference will be measured by the number of other Arab countries that agree to stand up with them to protest terrorism against Israel.
U.S. officials have said that Tunisia, Qatar, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf states may take part. Israeli television reported that Morocco’s King Hassan will attend.
Mubarak said Saturday that he was trying to persuade Syrian President Hafez Assad to participate but that Assad was “is still thinking it over.”
Syria, still officially at war with Israel, has not condemned the Hamas bombings. Several Hamas leaders live in the Syrian capital, Damascus, and in the Lebanese capital, Beirut. Syria controls Lebanon and allows Iranian-backed Hezbollah guerrillas there to continue their fight against Israeli soldiers occupying southern Lebanon.
In his effort to draw more Arab countries to Sharm el Sheik, Mubarak tried to broaden the focus of the summit from the topic of terrorism against Israel.
“Terrorism is not the issue here,” Mubarak said. “We’re talking about an international conference to support the peace process, and based on this we must meet or the peace process will collapse.”
A Hamas representative in Lebanon, Mustapha Liddawi, charged that the summit is not “to combat terrorism, it is to organize terrorism--the organized terrorism [Israel] practices on Palestinian people in Palestine as witnessed in the demolition of many homes and terrorizing of civilians.”
He was referring to Israel’s practice of destroying the family homes of suicide bombers.
Hamas Political Leaders Detained
In the past week, Arafat has rounded up most of Hamas’ political leaders, along with about 600 suspected Hamas activists detained since the wave of bombings began Feb. 25.
The latest, Ibrahim Yazouri, one of seven Hamas founders and a pharmacist who heads the Islamic Community Center in Gaza, was arrested at his home Friday night, his family confirmed Saturday.
Palestinian security officials said they also arrested Ahmed Bahar, another co-founder of Hamas and a professor of religion at the Islamic University of Gaza, but relatives denied it.
The only leading member of Hamas’ political organization still out of jail in Gaza is Sayed Abu Musameh.
The arrests, along with raids on mosques, Islamic clubs and welfare institutions that make up the Hamas social infrastructure, mark a turnaround for Arafat.
Before the recent bombings, Arafat was negotiating with Hamas political leaders, trying to get them to form a legal political party while trying to marginalize the military wing into eventual extinction.
But he has come under tremendous pressure from the Israelis and Americans to crack down on all of Hamas’ military and civilian infrastructure or risk an end to the peace process.
Israel has also threatened to move into Palestinian-ruled areas and make arrests if Arafat fails to do so.
The arrests, along with Israel’s closure of Palestinian territories, have provoked anger among Palestinians who say they are under occupation, just as they were before the peace accords were signed.
The closure, which bars tens of thousands of Palestinian workers from their jobs in Israel, costs the Palestinian economy up to $6 million daily in lost wages and trade, Arafat has said.
Members of the newly elected Palestinian legislative council say they fear a backlash.
In the West Bank on Saturday, leaders of Arafat’s Fatah organization issued a call for an end to the closure, calling it a “siege policy” and warning the Israeli government that it strengthens the influence of extremist groups.
The Fatah leaders called for mass demonstrations against the Israeli measures on Tuesday in all Palestinian cities, villages and refugee camps.
Growing West Bank Instability
Adding to the tension and sense of instability in the West Bank were reports that Arafat had demanded the resignation of the West Bank’s chief of preventive security, Jabril Rajoub.
Israel Army Radio said Arafat was unhappy about Rajoub’s intelligence-gathering activities after the attacks in Israel.
Several sources claimed that the two had a blowout Friday, and the man supposedly named to succeed Rajoub, Ramallah security chief Hussein Sheik, said he had been told to take Rajoub’s place.
But Rajoub publicly denied that he had been ousted, and a spokesman for Arafat said he would have no comment on the matter for a couple of days.
There were reports in the Israeli media that Arafat had been under pressure from the Israeli government to get rid of Rajoub because he would not crack down hard enough on Hamas, but a U.S. official close to both sides denied that.
Rajoub, deported in 1988 as a key organizer of the Palestinian uprising, has been close to Arafat and has had good relations with the Israeli security service, although he has done open battle with undercover Israeli collaborators in the West Bank.