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Israel Hit Over Arafat Threats

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon opens the cabinet meeting in his Jerusalem office Monday, Sept. 15, 2003. The Israeli cabinet was meeting Monday to discuss the 2004 budget.
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The Israeli government was under intense scrutiny Monday, with Palestinians urging the United Nations to demand that Israel ensures Yasser Arafat's safety and key Security Council members pushing both parties to implement the peace plan known as the "road map."

At the same time, the U.N.'s nuclear body, the International Atomic Energy Agency, is expected to discuss Israel's nuclear program this week during talks in Vienna. Although Iran, Iraq and North Korea are also on the agenda, observers told Israel's Haaretz newspaper the talks about Israel could become heated.

Arab states have frequently complained that the IAEA has been silent so far about Israel, which has never acknowledge having — but is widely believed to possess — nuclear weapons.

The Security Council scheduled an open meeting Monday on the situation in the Middle East amid mounting criticism of the Israel's security Cabinet's decision Thursday to "remove" Arafat in a manner and time to be decided.

The statement Sunday by Israel's Vice Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that killing Arafat is a possibility was certain to intensify the Palestinian demand for speedy U.N. action. "Mr. Arafat is a murderer and a killer," Olmert said.

The council began consultations on a resolution drafted by the Palestinians late Friday and then adjourned until Monday, despite Palestinian pressure for a quick vote.

Council ambassadors said they wanted to consult capitals and wait for the outcome of Secretary-General Kofi Annan's meeting in Geneva on Saturday with the foreign ministers of the five permanent council nations — the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France.

In the interim, the council issued a press statement expressing "the view that the removal of chairman Arafat would be unhelpful and should not be implemented." The statement, read by the council president, British Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry, reflected the consensus among the 15 council members.

CBS News Correspondent Robert Berger reports Israeli officials accuse the U.N. of hypocrisy and say the resolution, if passed, would be a black mark against the world body.

However, Israel's decision to remove Arafat may have backfired, reports Berger.

Arafat has been under virtual house arrest in his battered West Bank headquarters for the past two years, but Israel's decision to expel or possibly kill him has brought him back to center stage. In solidarity, thousands of Palestinians have been visiting Arafat's compound, which has become a new place of pilgrimage. The international community has also rallied round Arafat, demanding that Israel leave him alone.

Secretary of State Colin Powell said Sunday that Israel would incite rage not only among Arabs but also Muslims everywhere by exiling or executing Arafat.

Deputy U.S. Ambassador James Cunningham made clear on Friday that Washington's primary aim is to get the peace process back on track.

"Our view is that we should focus on trying to get people focused on implementing the road map, and that this isn't the right time to be looking at a Security Council resolution," he said.

After Saturday's meeting in Geneva, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan announced that the four parties that drafted the road map — the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia — have agreed to meet in New York later this month to consider "all relevant aspects of the issue" and help Israel and the Palestinians move forward with the peace process.

"The permanent ministers of the Security Council recognized that both sides have obligations under the ... road map and ... that it is now essential to go ahead with its implementation," Annan said.

No date was announced for the meeting, but it is likely to take place when ministers are at the United Nations for the high-level General Assembly meeting which starts on Sept. 23.

Recent attacks by both sides have stalled progress on implementing the road map, which envisions a Palestinian state by 2005, and Israel's threat against Arafat has heightened tensions.

The Palestinian draft "demands that Israel, the occupying power, desist from any act of deportation and to cease any threat to the safety of the elected president of the Palestinian Authority."

It calls for the cessation of violence — including all acts of terror, provocation, incitement and destruction — and increased efforts by both sides to ensure implementation of the road map.