VIP visit falls flat for 'President' Arafat

YASSER ARAFAT, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, welcomed his first diplomatic VIP on to the soil of his Gaza territory yesterday, when Warren Christopher, US Secretary of State, visited the enclave.

This 'high-level visit' was, however, hardly the grand occasion Mr Arafat would have hoped for, as self-appointed President of Palestine. The Gaza visit was something of a sideshow in comparison with the grand Dead Sea meeting on Wednesday when Shimon Peres, the Israeli Foreign Minister, became the first Israeli minister to step publicly on to Jordanian territory.

Mr Christopher arrived in Gaza under Israeli escort, flying in by Israeli air force helicopter. Although Palestinian flags decked the road, there was not a US flag in sight, with no immediate explanation why. The US Secretary of State was kept well away from the squalor of Gaza's increasingly restive refugee camps. And he was unable to see for himself the scene of Sunday's 'jobs riot' at Gaza's Erez checkpoint, when Palestinian workers and Palestinian police clashed with Israeli soldiers.

Mr Christopher was nevertheless fully briefed on the economic plight of Gazans. He delivered a tough message to Mr Arafat saying that unless the new authority shows better accountability international aid money would continue to be held up.

Meanwhile, Mr Arafat yesterday attacked Israel for inviting King Hussein to pray at the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, saying Israel had 'no jurisdiction' over Arab East Jerusalem, where the Islamic holy sites are located.

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