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Arafat threatens to start new revolt if talks don't resume

Angered by stalled peace talks, Yasser Arafat threatened Thursday to unleash a new uprising against Israel, and Palestinian students threw stones at Israeli soldiers in the divided West Bank town of Hebron.

Arafat's tough talk came as Palestinians kicked off a series of events that are to parallel Israel's 50th anniversary celebrations. The Palestinian ceremonies will commemorate the uprooting of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians after Israel's creation in 1948.In a reference to the deadlocked peace talks with Israel, Arafat said that after years of popular revolt against Israeli occupation, "if we need to, we will cross it out and begin all over."

Arafat also said he would declare statehood in the West Bank and Gaza Strip next year, regardless of the outcome of peace talks, which are to be wrapped up by May 1999.

Those opposed to his plans "can drink from the sea of Gaza," he said.

Negotiations on a permanent peace agreement have not yet even begun, and it is unlikely they will in the near future because the two sides remain at odds over how to carry out interim accords - including a phased Israeli troop pullback from the West Bank.

Israel has warned Arafat against a unilateral declaration of statehood, suggesting that it might respond by annexing parts of the West Bank. "Declaring a state is not just a violation of the Oslo (peace) agreements, but scuttling them," said David Bar-Illan, a senior adviser to Israel's prime minister.

Addressing about 200 Palestinian legislators and intellectuals in a reception hall in Ramallah, Arafat also referred to Israel's 50th anniversary celebrations, which started Wednesday with a tree-planting ceremony in the southern town of Kiryat Gat.

"Today, we are celebrating the memory of the catastrophe," Arafat said. "I use the word `celebrate' because our being here is a show of strength . . . and a reminder that this land will remain Palestinian."

Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also exchanged accusations over Iraq, with each accusing the other of using the gulf crisis to freeze the peace negotiations.

Netanyahu said Israel had met all its obligations.

"The Palestinian side is the one not holding up its side of the bargain. That's the problem," Netanyahu told Israel radio.

In Hebron Thursday, dozens of Palestinians hurled stones at Israeli soldiers at a checkpoint. Israeli troops fired rubber bullets to disperse them.

About 1,500 students marched at another pro-Iraq rally, in Nablus.