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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Israel Risks 'Balkanization,' PLO's Arafat Says

Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat said on Wednesday that Israel risked the "Balkanization" of the Middle East if it did not hasten a withdrawal from Gaza and Jericho.

Arafat, ending his first visit to Russia since the collapse of communism, said delays in the handover of the districts under an agreement signed in Washington last year encouraged "extremists" on both sides.

Asked what he would like President Boris Yeltsin to ask Israeli leader Yitzhak Rabin when he visits Moscow on Sunday, Arafat told a news conference:

"I'd like Mr Rabin to say if he wants peace or not.

"The deadlines have passed with nothing complete on the ground," Arafat said. "Unless we succeed in the peace, the alternative is complete anarchy in the region and Balkanization."

The Balkans, with its bloody history of ethnic hatreds and long-drawn-out wars, is currently at the center of Russian diplomacy. Russia is pressing hard to mediate a settlement in Bosnia, clearly viewing it as a test of Kremlin diplomatic clout.

Under the Declaration of Principles deal sealed in Washington last year, Israel agreed that it would pull its forces out of Jericho and Gaza by April 13 and hand the districts over to Palestinian control.

The process has been held up by disagreements over the scope of Palestinian law in the territories and the scale of an amnesty for Palestinian prisoners.

Arafat, who met Yeltsin on Tuesday, said Israel was deliberately delaying its pullback, having obtained what he called the "price" of peace from the United States.

This, he said, consisted of huge financial credits and deliveries of sophisticated arms, including warplanes.

"All this was achieved before implementation of the Declaration of Principles was implemented on the ground," Arafat said.

Both Arafat and the Israeli leadership are under pressure from militants to abandon the deal, hailed at the time of its conclusion as a breakthrough in the Middle East peace process co-sponsored by the United States and Russia.

Russia is attempting to revive its diplomatic role in the area, which has dwindled since the collapse of the Soviet Union as a major supplier of arms to Arab states and diplomatic backer of the Palestinians.

Arafat stressed Russia's role as a co-sponsor of the peace process launched in Madrid in 1991.

Moscow has a keen interest in stability close to its southern flank, but its direct influence in the area clearly remains limited with its decline as an economic power.

Moscow and the Palestinian Liberation Organization agreed on Tuesday that Russia would provide help in setting up a police force in the areas to come under Palestinian control. Arafat declined to give any details of what concrete contribution Russia has told him it would make.