Arafat Barred from Services in Bethlehem

JERUSALEM, DEC. 23, 2001 ( Israel today banned Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat from attending Christmas Eve services in Bethlehem, the Associated Press reported.

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Israel charged that Arafat is not acting against militant groups despite a crackdown that has led to bloody confrontations between militants and Palestinian police, AP said. Palestinian officials had no immediate reaction to Israel´s decision.

The ban came a week after Arafat ordered militants to stop all attacks against Israel, prompting clashes between supporters of the militant groups and police from his Palestinian Authority.

Seven Palestinians were killed and more than 100 injured in the clashes, some of the worst fighting among Palestinians in years. Six young Palestinians were buried Saturday.

The militant group Hamas issued a statement Friday ordering an end to suicide bomb attacks in Israel and mortar fire at Israeli targets in the Gaza Strip. The smaller group Islamic Jihad appeared ready to go along with the ban, apparently responding to pressure from Arafat.

Arafat, a Muslim, has attended Christmas Eve festivities in Bethlehem every year since 1995, when Bethlehem was turned over to Palestinian control as part of interim Israeli-Palestinian peace accords.

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