Sharon Mulls Letting Arafat Go to Gaza

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is considering ending Yasser Arafat's isolation in his besieged West Bank headquarters and letting the Palestinian leader go to Gaza, Sharon's spokesmen said Thursday.

Under the plan, Arafat would be allowed leave his shell-battered compound for Gaza, giving him the opportunity to crack down on militant groups and show he is serious about fighting terrorism, said Sharon aide Danny Ayalon.

"If Arafat commits himself to fight terror in Gaza we will consider letting him move to Gaza," Ayalon said. He added that the proposal has not formally been conveyed to Arafat, who has been confined to just a few rooms of his compound since the Israeli military operation began March 29.

None of the wanted militants the Israel says are inside Arafat's compound would be permitted to go with him.

Palestinian Cabinet Minister Saeb Erekat ridiculed the plan as an Israeli ploy to regain complete control of the West Bank.

"All along the way, we knew that Sharon had an end game, and that end game is to reoccupy the West Bank," he said. "Sharon is fragmenting the integrity of the West Bank and Gaza as single entity."

Ayalon said the Palestinian security apparatus was intact in Gaza, unlike in the West Bank where it was destroyed during the three-week Israeli incursion in pursuit of militants wanted for attacks in Israel.

In Gaza, "he doesn't have any excuse. We have terror there every day, so if Arafat wants to move to Gaza to fight terror then we will allow it," Ayalon said.

Sharon first publicly raised the idea of letting Arafat go to Gaza in an interview published Thursday in The New York Times. But said he thought Arafat would refuse to crack down on Gaza militants.

"With Arafat, no one will be able to make peace," Sharon said.