PLO chairman Yasser Arafat will visit the Gaza Strip and Jericho for at least three days starting Friday or Saturday, his first trip to the territories since the beginning of Palestinian self-rule, an aide said.
Nabil Shaath, the PLO's top negotiator with Israel, said he told Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin of the visit, which came as a surprise after several delays. But Rabin said he was not sure the trip was possible on short notice."There will not be a visit in Gaza without coordination," Rabin said on Israel radio. "I will check this matter, and when I have decided, I will let you know."
Arafat planned to visit Gaza and the West Bank town of Jericho for three or four days but will not enter Jerusalem, Shaath said. Jerusalem's mayor and right-wing settlers had vowed to block him from coming.
Arafat had been expected to arrive in the self-rule territories in June but had repeatedly postponed the visit. He has given various reasons for the delay, including demands that donors first turn over $42 million in aid.
Shaath told The Associated Press that Arafat would come despite concerns about security, both for his safety and for controlling the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians expected to pour into the streets to greet him.
"Mr. Arafat took a lot of risks in the struggle to go home, so this will not be a determent. But for sure our police are preparing for all the security requirements," Shaath said.
Right-wing Jewish settlers planned large-scale protests of Arafat's visit, said Aharon Domb, spokesman for the Settlers Council, which represents 144 settlements in the West Bank and Gaza.
"Rabin and (Foreign Minister Shimon) Peres have lost their minds. Arafat is the master terrorist, and we will do what we can to make sure that life in this country will be disrupted," Domb told The Associated Presss.
Extremist Israelis have threatened to assassinate the Palestine Liberation Organization leader for past terrorist acts.