Israel's announcement that it would "remove" Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has met with international criticism everywhere from the U.S. State Department to the office of French President Jacques Chirac.
Thousands swarmed Yasser Arafat's headquarters promising to defend the Palestinian leader.
Following the announcement Thursday evening by the Israeli cabinet, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, a sometime Middle East peace negotiator, embarked on a marathon of phone calls with other European leaders.
The consensus was unanimous: the Israeli cabinet's decision to "remove" Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat "in a manner that will be determined separately," would only escalate the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which had just endured a bloody few days.
"The decision is not appropriate for stabilizing the dangerous situation in the Middle East," said a spokesman for Germany's foreign ministry.
France, which considers Arafat the legitimate leader of the Palestinian people, and the European Union issued similar statements and a State Department official told Reuters that removal would only give Arafat an "international stage on which he would continue to be an obstacle to peace."
Describing any decision to expel Arafat as a "terrible mistake," European Commission spokesman Diego de Ojeda said: "Nothing has changed from our point of view. Mr Arafat remains the democratically elected president of the Palestinian Authority and as such we shall continue with our contacts with the Palestinian Authority at all levels depending on circumstances."
Palestinians swarm Arafat headquarters
Arafat emerged from his headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah Thursday evening to cheers as thousands of supporters promised to defend him. A resolute Arafat said he was not going to go anywhere.
Orly, the mother of Israeli soldier Mazi Grego, cries during her funeral in the city of Hulon near Tel Aviv, Wednesday Sept 10 2003. Grego was killed as a Palestinian suicide bomber blew himself up Tuesday killing eight people in the central Israeli town of Rishon Letzion. (AP Photo/Eitan Hess-Ashkenazi)
The Israeli reached the cabinet decision after two days of suicide bombings that left 15 Israelis dead. The government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had declared Arafat "irrelevant" in December 2001, and refused to negotiate with him.
Under pressure from the European Union, the United States, Russia and the United Nations, Arafat stepped down this summer to help get the quartet's "Roadmap" to peace on its way. Mahmoud Abbas was appointed prime minister but resigned Saturday recently after escalating violence between the two sides derailed the Roadmap once again.
Killing Arafat discussed, reports say
Arafat-favorite Ahmed Qurie was designated prime minister in Abbas' place. He responded to the Israeli announcement by suspending the selection of his cabinet. If implemented, he said, the decision would not just "blow up the Palestinian territories, but also the entire region."
It was not clear what the cabinet met by "removal." Reports speculated that the term could also mean killing Arafat -- a move Sharon is said to be against. Middle East observers said eliminating Arafat would be fruitless. "For every dead leader, three more grow in his place," said Wolfgang Schäuble, the foreign policy expert for Germany's Christian Democrats.