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Israelis: Aide Says Arafat Funded Terror Attacks

Israel says a prominent Palestinian leader captured during its recent offensive in the West Bank has told interrogators that Yasser Arafat personally approved funding for weapons to be used in attacks against Israelis. 

According to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's office, Marwan Barghouti told his questioners that when a militiaman wanted to carry out an attack, he had to fill out a detailed request for funding and weapons and hand it in to Barghouti, who would sign it and pass it along to Arafat for final approval. 

However, the Israelis did not provide transcripts of Barghouti's statements or provide any other evidence to support the report, which was released in a three-page statement from the prime minister's office. 

They also would not describe the conditions under which Barghouti is being held. Since his capture, Barghouti has complained to his lawyer that he has been permitted only short periods of sleep and been questioned around the clock for days at a time. 

Palestinian officials contacted by The Associated Press declined to comment. In the past, they have repeatedly denied that Arafat approved attacks against Israelis, citing the Palestinian leader's denunciations of attacks against civilians on both sides. 

Israel has given the United States documents that it says prove Arafat's direct involvement in terror attacks. However, the Palestinians have dismissed the documents as propaganda. 

Captured in the West Bank town of Ramallah on April 15, Barghouti, 41, is the highest ranking Palestinian taken into custody during the West Bank sweep. He is the West Bank head of Arafat's Fatah movement, and is widely believed to be the leader of the Tanzim, the militia wing of Fatah, blamed by Israel for dozens of attacks against Israelis. 

The account Thursday from Sharon's office — which also said that Barghouti said Arafat had to approve every outlay of funds regardless of the amount — is at odds with what many militants have said previously. 

Members of the Al Aqsa Brigades, a militia linked to Fatah, have said that they are semiautonomous and did not clear planned attacks with top Palestinian leaders. 

Israel has charged that Arafat is responsible for Palestinian violence during 19 months of conflict, saying he encouraged militants and failed to crack down on extremists. The Israelis also say that in recent months, most of the attacks against Israelis have come from groups affiliated with Fatah. 

Barghouti gave his account while being interrogated by members of Israel's Shin Bet secret service, Sharon's office said.