Israel On Alert, Arafat Looks Ill

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat attends Friday prayers inside his headquarters in the West Bank town of Ramallah Friday Sept. 26, 2003. Israel is determined to "remove" Arafat one day, taking into account that the Palestinian leader might get hurt as he is seized by Israeli troops, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said in an interview published Friday. ( AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)
AP
Israel dispatched troop reinforcements and weighed a call-up of reserves Wednesday, citing new warnings about planned attacks by Palestinian militants.

The military also extended a two-week lockdown on Palestinians' travel within the West Bank and Gaza in what it said was a bid to prevent further attacks.

Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz ordered the troop reinforcements sent to the West Bank and Gaza Strip and canceled training courses for soldiers.

Israeli military sources said orders for mobilizing reserve soldiers were being drawn up because of an increase of terror threats. The closure is to remain in effect at least until Oct. 22, and the government will then decide whether to call up reserves, media reports said.

Advisers to Yasser Arafat, meanwhile, denied a report he suffered a mild heart attack last week. They said he is battling a stomach flu and continues to be weak.

Yasser Arafat has looked weak and pale in public appearances this week, reports CBS News Correspondent Robert Berger, and his lower lip trembled considerably. He spoke with great effort and with prompting from his chief adviser, Nabil Abu Rdeneh. At times, he appeared in a daze, staring straight ahead.

Wednesday, the British newspaper the Guardian reported that he had suffered a mild heart attack.

"Although he has had a slight heart attack, the doctors say he will make a full recovery. He is in full control. There is nothing to worry about," said a close aide, who did not wish to be named.

Why wasn't the illness made public?

It would "have created panic at a critical time when the Israelis are threatening Arafat's life," said the aide.

"He had a stomach flu but he never had a heart attack," said Dr. Yousef Goussous, one of four physicians who examined Arafat last week.

Also Wednesday, the highest-ranking Israeli air force pilot who signed a letter refusing to fly targeted air strikes against Palestinians said he had been sacked by the head of the air force.

Brig. Gen. Yiftah Spector told Haaretz newspaper he was no longer an instructor at the flight training academy. Twenty-seven reservists had told the air force they would no longer fly such missions, because they were too likely to hit civilian bystanders.

A prisoner swap between Israel and the Islamic guerilla group Hezbollah appears less likely. Berger reports the family of missing Israeli airman Ron Arad is trying to thwart the exchange, furious that the government was about to close a deal to release hundreds of Arab prisoners, in exchange for a kidnapped Israeli, but without Arad.

His family says air force navigator shot down over Lebanon 17 years ago and captured is probably still alive, quoting a secret government report on his fate.

Now Israel is saying no deal without some new information on Arad.

Also Wednesday, Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said that Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia will attempt to stop the terror attacks, but will not take military action against the terror groups or try to break them up.

Qureia himself proposed a cease-fire to Israel in a newspaper interview published Wednesday.

"I hope to work with your government and reach a cease-fire," he told the Israeli newspaper Ma'ariv. "Give us a chance to prevent a continued deterioration [of violence]."

Over the weekend, Arafat installed an eight-member emergency Cabinet, headed by Qureia, whom he had tapped for the job last month. Qureia planned to seek parliament approval for his team on Thursday.

Nasser Yousef, who is to oversee security as the new interior minister, refused to participate in the swearing-in of the Cabinet on Tuesday, saying he did not want to take office until the government had parliament backing.

Last month, Yousef had a bitter argument with Arafat over the extent of his authority, but the dispute appears to have been settled. Security policy will be set by a 13-member National Security Council headed by Arafat, and Yousef will have command of all eight security branches. In the past, four of the branches were under Arafat's direct control and four under those of the interior minister.

It remains unclear how much control Arafat will retain under the new arrangement. The United States and Israel, who have accused Arafat of encouraging terrorism, demand that he not have any say over security.

Reflecting the tensions, the Israeli military announced Tuesday it was extending the closure of the West Bank and Gaza, banning Palestinians from Israel and cordoning off Palestinian towns. The closure was imposed before the Jewish New Year two weeks ago. Normally such closures are lifted after Jewish holidays.

Mofaz ordered the lockdown against the recommendations of top security officials who noted that the level of warnings about possible terror attacks was not unusual, Israeli media reported.

The closure meant that West Bank residents were unable to leave their communities and checkpoints divided the Gaza Strip into four parts, cutting off major roads.