Outcry over US veto of move to protect Arafat

Palestinian leaders de-nounced the United States yesterday for vetoing a UN Security Council resolution barring Israel from harming Yasser Arafat or expelling him from the West Bank.

Saeb Erakat, a former peace negotiator, told The Independent: "I hope this will not be seen by Israel as a licence to kill Arafat. This veto weakens moderates in this region and strengthens extremism."

Yasser Abed Rabbo, a former information minister, said the Americans were hostage to Israeli hardliners. "The American administration is not living up to its commitments under the road-map [for peace] ... depending on the US efforts and its role is futile."

Mr Arafat dismissed the veto. "No decision here or there will shake us," he told cheering supporters at his Ramallah HQ. "We are bigger than all decisions."

Israel commended the Bush administration for the veto. Silvan Shalom, the Foreign Minister, welcomed the abstention by the UK, Germany and Bulgaria as "a positive step".

The resolution, submitted by the Arab bloc, followed a warning by Israel that it would "re-move" Mr Arafat, an "obstacle" to reconciliation.

John Negroponte, the US ambassador to the UN, said the resolution was vetoed because it did not condemn militant groups such as Hamas or Islamic Jihad. "It did not take a clear stand against these terrorist groups' actions or call for decisive action against them."

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