Brussels Challenging Washington on Arafat – Followed by Peres

Saturday night, May 11, debkafile was informed by its American and European sources of an explicit policy departure by the European Union: Following the Bethlehem episode, that ended in the banishment of 13 senior terrorists outside the Middle East, the deportation of 26 to the Gaza Strip and the release of another 84, Brussels has decided to come out in the open and fight the Bush administration’s moves to sideline Yasser Arafat.
The European bloc reached a clear decision over the weekend to extend the Palestinian leader a lifeline and restores his standing together with that of the Palestinian Authority.
This move cancels out the US president’s attempt to use the Bethlehem crisis as an opportunity for forging a joint US-European stand on the Palestinian question.
The first outward indication of the rift was the surprise announcement by the EU Middle East Envoy, Miguel Moratinos in Nicosia Saturday, May 11, after visiting the 13 senior terrorists whom Israel says have blood on their hands:
“They are free men, not prisoners, not deportees. They have signed on a personal basis an agreement to go to a third country. They came on a voluntary basis. This is not a deportation.”
All thirteen have been welcomed at the three-star Flamingo Hotel in Larnaca until a European foreign ministers meeting Monday, 13 May, decides which countries will take them.
According to debkafile‘s Washington and Brussels sources, the Europeans acted when they found out that in whichever countries, the 13 terrorists are dispersed, the United States means to apply to their governments for the extradition of suspected murderers of American citizens.
The first on their list is Ismail Hamdan, a Bethlehem Tanzim leader and member of Tawfiq Tirawi’s General Intelligence service, who killed Avi Boaz, an American businessman based in Gilo, Jerusalem earlier this year.
According to our sources, Israeli foreign minister Shimon Peres has informed his confidants that he means to follow the European lead and openly challenge the Sharon line on Arafat, which is aligned with Washington. If Peres goes through with this strategy, the national unity government created by the Likud prime minister 14 months ago will face its first real threat.

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