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Don't harm Arafat, U.S. warns Sharon

WASHINGTON, APRIL 24. The United States has sharply warned the Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, to keep his promise not to harm the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat.

Mr. Sharon had said in an interview with Israeli public television on Friday that he believed he was no longer under any obligation to abide by his pledge to the U.S. President, George W. Bush, and that Mr. Arafat ``no longer has immunity'' from an Israeli attack.

``I promised President George W. Bush three years ago not to attack Mr. Arafat, but I am no longer bound by that promise, and [Arafat] no longer has immunity,'' Mr. Sharon said.

The comment, however, drew a sharp rebuke immediately from the U.S. Secretary of State, Colin Powell, who made it clear that he was speaking on behalf of the President.

``The President made it clear that he would oppose any such attempts against Mr. Arafat, and the President firmly believes that he has a commitment from Prime Minister Sharon that no such attempt will be made,'' Gen. Powell said, appearing on ABC's ``Nightline'' programme.

A senior administration official said earlier in the day that the White House considered ``a pledge, a pledge.''

``We have made it entirely clear to the Israeli Government that we would oppose any such action and have done so again in the wake of these remarks'' by Mr. Sharon, the official said.

An AP report from London said that Britain urged Mr. Sharon to stand by the promise not to harm Mr. Arafat. ``We fully expect Israel, and Prime Minister Sharon, to stand by its pledge not to harm Yasser Arafat and would strongly oppose any action taken against him,'' the Foreign Office said.

AFP reported from Moscow that Russia was deeply concerned over threats by Mr. Sharon. ``Moscow has with deep concern learned of the April 23 declaration by Mr. Sharon that he is no longer bound by his earlier promises not to physically harm Yasser Arafat,'' said Alexander Yakovenko, Foreign Ministry spokesman. ``We would like to underline Russia's definitive stance that such threats toward a legally-elected head of the Palestinian Authority... are not acceptable,'' Mr. Yakovenko said.

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