Arafat Entertains Muslim Militants

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JERUSALEM: Why is Yasser Arafat extending an olive branch to Islamic militants by meeting them today and tomorrow, while Israel continues to demand a crackdown for a July suicide bombing?

In the past, "Arafat's efforts to keep the fundamentalists on board have led them to stop launching terror attacks on Israel," says TIME Jerusalem Bureau Chief Lisa Beyer. "He thinks it can happen again, which would take lots of pressure off him."

But Beyer says Arafat is not above "sticking a finger in Israel's eye" by starting dialogue with Hamas (the largest Islamic group and the one Israel blames for numerous suicide attacks), the Iranian-backed Islamic Jihad and some 10 other militant organizations. The Israeli government compares the talks to dealing with the devil and wants Arafat to arrest the militants and shut down their recruiting offices. There's not much chance of that while Arafat remains politically weakened by charges of corruption. Today's meeting, and the 1,500-strong Palestinian demonstration that accompanied it, is designed at least in part to shore up the former PLO leader's power.

Meanwhile, in the ongoing skirmish on the northern border, Israel has retaliated after yesterday's rocket attack by bombing a Hizballah base on the Lebanese-Syrian frontier. Two children were hurt when the roof of their house collapsed in eastern Lebanon.