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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Arafat Offers to Step Down if Asked

RAMALLAH, West Bank -- Yasser Arafat told the Palestinian parliament Monday that he condemns "every act of terror against Israeli civilians" and that he is willing to give up executive powers if asked.

It was not immediately clear whether he was seriously proposing stepping down or merely mocking his critics.

Arafat also said presidential, parliamentary and municipal elections would be held at the beginning of January. The United States has been seeking a delay in presidential elections, hoping to win Palestinian agreement to install a prime minister who would take over day-to-day affairs of government, and turning Arafat into a figurehead. Arafat has resisted the idea of appointing a prime minister.

Addressing the Israeli public, Arafat called for new peace negotiations and said: "I would like to say that we want to achieve peace with you. We want security and stability for us and for you ... This peace is still ahead of us."

Arafat's appearance before the legislature, his first in 18 months, was considered a key test of his standing. He was seeking approval for a new Cabinet and for reform plans sought by the United States and Israel.

In his speech Monday, Arafat said he condemned "every act of terror against Israeli civilians," but did not say explicitly that the attacks must be halted. He said such attacks served Israel's interest by drawing attention away from the suffering of the Palestinians under Israel's occupation. He asked legislators to uphold the national interest, but did not specify what this would mean.

The 88-seat legislature has convened only sporadically, and usually with a low turnout, during the past two years of fighting because of Israeli travel restrictions. Israeli hard-liners criticized Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for permitting the session to go ahead, arguing it would give new credibility to Arafat at a time when Israel is trying to sideline him. Sharon in the past has blocked the parliament from meeting.

The session opened at Arafat's sandbagged headquarters, which have been heavily damaged in several Israeli raids. In a first step, legislators re-elected their speaker, Ahmed Qureia, by an overwhelming margin.

Qureia, also known as Abu Ala, was a key player in earlier peace accords with Israel. Qureia is considered a confidant of Arafat -- but also a possible successor to the Palestinian leader.

In the Gaza Strip, meanwhile, troops blew up the house of a suspected Palestinian militant in the Boureij refugee camp. During the operation, about 60 tanks encircled Boureij and two adjacent camps.