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Arafat makes new promise

Compiled from Times wires
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 9, 2002

JERUSALEM -- A beleaguered Yasser Arafat vowed in a televised speech Wednesday to unleash his security services to prevent terrorist attacks, hours after the Islamic militant group Hamas claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing that killed 15 Israelis.

"I gave my orders and directions to all the Palestinian security forces to confront and prevent all terror attacks against Israeli civilians from any Palestinian side or parties," Arafat said on Palestinian TV.

President Bush called Arafat's statement an "incredibly positive sign" and urged Israel to consider the consequences of its response to the suicide attack. "You've got to want peace to achieve peace," Bush said in Washington.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon held an emergency Cabinet meeting early today to consider a response, which could include an offensive in the Gaza Strip and Arafat's expulsion.

The bombing Tuesday night was followed 12 hours later by a failed suicide bombing in which a Palestinian set off explosives at a highway intersection near the northern city of Haifa. The assailant was wounded but caused no injuries to bystanders. Fearing the bomber might have additional explosives, Israel's bomb squad used a robotic arm to drag him across the highway before police approached.

At Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity, a standoff that began April 2 appeared to be close to an end.

A Palestinian in the church, Abdulla Daoud, said by telephone that the 26 Palestinians inside would be transported to Gaza and about 80 civilians would be freed. Thirteen suspected militants, due for deportation, would be left behind for now.

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