Hamas kidnapping puts Arafat on the spot

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YASSER ARAFAT was yesterday in an uncomfortable position. To revive suspended peace talks with Israel and restore its faith in the peace process, his police must confront the Islamic militant movement, Hamas, which kidnapped an Israeli soldier at the weekend.

But for months now Mr Arafat has tried to avoid direct confrontation with his rivals, fearing it could spark bloodshed and amount to political suicide for the wily Palestine Liberation Organisation leader.

Israeli leaders blame him for failing to prevent an upsurge of violence against Israelis, such as the latest attack on a crowded Jerusalem cafe district on Sunday in which four people were killed, and the abduction of Nachshon Waxman, 19, a soldier last seen the same day hitch- hiking near Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion airport.

Hamas has announced that he will be executed if Israel has not released by tomorrow a group of Muslim fundamentalist leaders, including the founder of Hamas, Sheikh Ahmad Yassin. The kidnapping of Corporal Waxman, and a videotape of his being held at gunpoint, is bound to inflame public opinion and force Israeli politicians to try to resolve the issue.

News of the abduction led Israel to break off talks with the PLO on Tuesday night. Israeli sources in London said the abduction alone was insufficient to derail the peace process, but warned that Mr Arafat's failure to prevent attacks was an obstacle to progress in resolving the

Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

The Education Minister, Amnon Rubinstein, said yesterday: 'This is not a single instance. We are dealing with a series of crimes and murders of the most brutal kind and we have not seen serious action taken by the Palestinian Authority. The Palestinian Authority . . . must put an end to open activity by Hamas in Gaza.'

Under Israeli pressure, the authority has arrested scores of opposition activists, releasing most shortly afterwards without charge. An authority official last night promised another 'wave of arrests'.

Israel wants militants who attack Israelis to be put on trial in Gaza or handed over to Israel. Most Palestinian leaders shrink from either


In the Jordanian capital, Amman, the Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, and Jordan's King Hussein held a surprise meeting last night to discuss the status of peace talks between their countries.

'The meeting advances the peace talks between Jordan and Israel and shows the effort to continue the peace process despite terrorist attacks,' Mr Rabin's spokesman said.