Arafat asks US to block Jewish settlement

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Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader, yesterday asked President Bill Clinton in Washington to stop the construction of a Jewish settlement in Jerusalem as Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem went on strike in protest.

Declaring that "not one single house should be added", Mr Arafat looked for support from Mr Clinton and Madeleine Albright, the US Secretary of State, during his four-day visit to America. He said part of Jerusalem "was Arab, is Arab, will remain Arab and eventually will become capital of Palestine".

In east Jerusalem, shops were closed and there was little traffic in West Bank cities under Palestinian control. Palestinian police stopped motorists and asked them to go home. There were no reports of clashes, mainly because Mr Arafat and his security services are determined to prevent a confrontation with Israel now.

While he is genuine in his dismay at Israel's move to tighten its grip on Jerusalem, Mr Arafat is also milking the decision to build a settlement for 26,000 Jews at Har Homa, called Jabal Abu Ghneim by Palestinians, for all the diplomatic advantage that he can.

Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, has lost much of the international credit he won after the partial Israeli withdrawal from Hebron because of the decision.

On a visit to a Palestinian district in Jerusalem yesterday Mr Netanyahu tried to reassure residents that they would get better infrastructure. He said: "We are serious about it. It's not a ploy. We're not playing games. We think it is our responsibility to treat its [Jerusalem's] Arab and Jewish residents alike."

Meanwhile, Israeli officials revealed that Yitzhak Mordechai, the Defence Minister, was pushing a plan to build 1,500 housing units for Jews and 3,000 hotel rooms which would link the Maaleh Adumim settlement with Jewish enclaves north of the city.