Beliefnet
JERUSALEM (AP) - Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on Tuesday proposed a way to end Yasser Arafat's effective imprisonment by Israel - the Palestinian leader is welcome to take a one-way helicopter ride into exile, accompanied by European diplomats to guarantee his safety.

Arafat, who says he would prefer martyrdom to exile, would never accept the offer, Palestinian officials said. Arafat "will not leave Palestine,'' Planning Minister Nabil Shaath said from Cairo, Egypt.

Despite Sharon's remarks, the most likely scenario still looks to be an extended standoff at Arafat's office in Ramallah, with Sharon hoping the hulking presence of Israeli armor just outside Arafat's door will squeeze him into seeking a halt to the wave of attacks against Israel.

But the Israeli strategy has produced no tangible benefit so far. Palestinian violence has intensified to the point of almost daily suicide bombings. Arafat, who has thrived in crises throughout his tumultuous career, is attempting to use the international media and foreign leaders to keep his plight in the limelight.

As the standoff drags on, Sharon is likely to face increasing pressure to pull Israeli troops out of Arafat's compound, and that could play to Arafat's advantage in the battle for public opinion.

After journalists slipped into Arafat's compound, Sharon ordered military commanders to tighten the cordon around the area, and the Palestinian leader has not spoken publicly since Sunday.

Sharon said Tuesday that European Union envoy Miguel Moratinos asked Israeli officials whether Arafat would be able to leave Ramallah.

"If (European diplomats) would like, they will fly with a helicopter and will take him from here,'' Sharon said in remarks carried by Israel Radio.

"First, I would have to bring this to the Cabinet. Second, he can't take anyone with him, the murderers who are located around him there. And the third thing is that it would have to be a one-way ticket,'' Sharon said.

European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana, a frequent visitor to the Middle East, suggested the roiling region would be best served if both Sharon and Arafat stepped aside.

"Neither is a saint, and sometimes I'm inclined to think that perhaps a new generation of persons in Israel and Palestine could in the 21st century come up with a solution,'' Solana told Spain's Cadena SER radio. "They have faced many battlefields, and it hasn't escaped me that there is something personal between Arafat and Sharon.''

When Israeli tanks knocked down the walls to Arafat's compound and parked within earshot of his office last Friday, the Israelis said the aim was "isolate'' him, though it left open the possibility he could be pushed out later. Israel says the army has since seized weapons, forged money and incriminating documents from the compound.

When Arafat's fate was debated in Sharon's Cabinet last week, security officials argued against expulsion, saying Arafat would cause more problems for Israel as a free man abroad, according to Israeli officials.

Israeli troops, meanwhile, appeared to be preparing for a long-term stay at the hilltop compound in Ramallah. Tanks and armored personnel carriers have formed barriers in an ever-widening radius in the streets outside the compound. An armored bulldozer moved flattened cars to form barricades, picking them up and tipping them on their sides. The army has been digging trenches across some streets and building earthen barricades on others.

The most pressing problem was a shortage of water, which has to be brought in, said an Arafat bodyguard contacted by The Associated Press. Arafat is accompanied by seven civilian aides, but there's been no word on how many security guards are with him. Various media reports have put it at 50 or more. After three days of sporadic gunbattles at the compound, no shooting has been reported Monday or Tuesday, though the situation remains tense.

If Arafat was to be harmed, even accidentally, it would provoke another wave of Palestinian outrage and the Israeli army now find itself in the awkward position of trying to ensure that nothing bad happens to him.

"The soldiers have been given very strict orders to avoid penetrating Arafat's apartment,'' said Israeli Maj. Gen. Giora Eiland, who is in charge of military operations. "Even more, they have to avoid shooting at the building itself and to take care that Arafat personally will not be hurt."

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