Sharon: we should have killed Arafat in 1982

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Israel should have killed Yasser Arafat when its army placed him under siege in Beirut 20 years ago, Ariel Sharon said in an interview published yesterday.

The Israeli Prime Minister told the Maariv newspaper that he was "sorry we did not liquidate" the Palestinian leader in 1982, when he, as defence minister, led the invasion of Lebanon. But he said that Israel had decided not to do so.

Mr Sharon has in the past called Mr Arafat a "murderer and a liar", and his latest remarks were labelled a "provocation" by Palestinian officials.

They were also poorly received by European diplomats pressing for a ceasefire. Joseph Pique, the foreign minister of Spain, which holds the EU presidency, said that, while he had not seen Mr Sharon's comments, "they deserve our rejection".

Mr Sharon's forces have for weeks had Mr Arafat bottled up inside his West Bank headquarters, which are surrounded by tanks.

Israeli officials say there is no plan to oust or to kill him, but this has not eased Palestinian outrage. "I think these remarks reflect what has been always said – that Sharon is trying to finish what he began in 1982," said Saeb Erekat, a Palestinian cabinet minister. "And for prime ministers to announce openly their gangster intentions is a reflection of what kind of government we're dealing with."