U.S.: Arafat blocking convoy-bombing probe

By Aaron Klein

The United States now believes Yasser Arafat has made a political decision not to pursue the terrorists who bombed a U.S. embassy convoy last October killing three Americans, a senior U.S. official said yesterday.

The convoy was on its way to interview Palestinians in Gaza for college scholarships in the U.S. when it was hit by a roadside remote-control bomb. The FBI, which helped Israeli officials in the investigation, believes the terrorists responsible for the attack are linked to Yasser Arafat’s Fatah faction.

Following the attack, Arafat arrested three low-level members of the splinter organization Popular Front and held a quick trial that the U.S. called a sham, but he later caved into pressure and admitted the three may not have been involved in the attack. The perpetrators remain at large.

“There has been no satisfactory resolution of this case,” David Satterfield, the second-in-charge at the State Department’s Near East desk, told the U.S. Senate yesterday.

“We can only conclude that there has been a political decision taken by the chairman to block further progress in this investigation,” Satterfield said, referring to Arafat.

The United States has persistently complained the Palestinians have failed to fully investigate the bombing, but until now officials had not directly blamed Arafat for the handling of the probe.

An Israeli security source told WND: “The bombing of an American convoy was a major strategic decision, and there is no way it could have happened without the direct involvement of Arafat.”

Some in Israel charged that Arafat was for a time hiding the murderers in his Ramallah compound, but asked them to leave several months ago.

Satterfield also repeated demands that Arafat immediately reform his security forces and hand over power to a prime minister.

The pressure increased with a resolution by the Palestinian Legislative Council – which has rarely raised its voice against Arafat – calling on him to accept the resignation of Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia and form a new Cabinet better equipped to deal with the internal turmoil.

But Satterfield said he did not attribute much significance to recent Palestinian shows of defiance against Arafat.

“Our judgment is this represents more of an internal clash between personalities than it does a fundamental shift on the critical structural and leadership issues,” he said.