Arafat demands end to suicide bombings

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Bowing to intense world pressure to rein in militants and after a week of violence that killed 10 Israelis and 20 Palestinians, Yasser Arafat last night made an impassioned appeal to Palestinians to halt armed attacks on Israeli civilians.

With Israel's tanks parked only 200 yards from his Ramallah headquarters, the Palestinian leader went on television to urge his people to stop all armed activity.

"There should be no more attacks, especially suicide bombings. We shall arrest all those who plan these attacks. We shall outlaw organisations that start terror activities," he said

Palestinian officials said yesterday they had already closed 33 Hamas and Islamic Jihad offices. Mr Arafat denied buckling before the might of Israel's military offensive launched last Thursday, or to the mounting pressure for him to crack down on militants, saying terrorist attacks had violated the Palestinians' own national interest.

At the same time, the Palestinian leader made a direct appeal to the Israelis to halt their campaign, reaffirming his commitment to dialogue. "We want a viable Palestinian state alongside the state of Israel. I call on the people and government of Israel to return to the negotiating table and to cease these inhumane measures against our people."

This is not the first time Mr Arafat has called for a ceasefire or promised to stop the bombers, but amid signs that the international community is also losing patience with him, last night's declaration had an unprecedented urgency.

Israel responded with predictable scepticism. "The only way to judge is by what's being done, not only what's being said," the Foreign Minister, Shimon Peres, said. "It is not for the sake of Israel, but for the sake of the Palestinians themselves that Arafat has to assert his authority."

President George Bush's special envoy, General Anthony Zinni, flew back to Washington on Saturday night after failing to broker a ceasefire.