Arafat Warns Against Possible U.S. Strike on Iraq

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat warned Thursday against any U.S. strike on Iraq, saying it would have catastrophic consequences in the Middle East and urged resolving the conflict through the United Nations.

In a joint interview with Associated Press Television News and an Israeli TV station, Arafat also predicted the Israel-Palestinian conflict will worsen now that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon depends on far-right and religious parties to cling to power.

Warning against a U.S. strike on Iraq, Arafat said, "I hope that this war will not take place because this will lead to a catastrophe in the whole area of the Middle East."

"I hope that such conflicts will be resolved in the United Nations since the Iraqis have accepted (U.N. weapons) inspectors back," he said.

Arafat also said he remains committed to achieving peace with Israel despite two years of fighting and said he considers homicide attacks against Israeli civilians to be immoral.

"I say to the Israelis, come tomorrow and sit at the negotiation table," said the beleaguered Palestinian leader, who has been mostly confined to his Ramallah compound for some 10 months. "Let's go back to the peace of the brave."

Arafat said Israel's repeated killing of Palestinian militants accused of terrorism has sabotaged his efforts to reach agreements with the radical groups to end attacks on Israelis. He pledged to work to end such attacks if Israel withdrew from the Palestinian areas that it has occupied in the past two years.

"Why don't you pull out, and we'll bring the Americans and we'll work together to end such attacks?" he said, addressing Israel's government. Asked if he considered the attacks immoral, Arafat replied: "Yes, they are immoral. We condemn these attacks all the time."

Arafat expressed concern about the moderate Labor Party's pullout from Sharon's coalition on Wednesday, and Thursday's news that Israel's new defense minister would be tough-talking former military chief Shaul Mofaz.

"I expect an escalation against us, especially if we're talking about such a new government," Arafat said.