Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat called on President-elect George Bush Saturday to formulate a more impartial Middle East policy, "not one that is aligned just to Israel."
Arafat, the Palestine Liberation Organization leader, made his appeal during the opening session of the Palestine National Council, the Palestinian parliament-in-exile, which is expected to declare independence in the Israeli-occupied Gaza Strip and West Bank Tuesday."We are going to raise the olive branch in the land of Mohammad and Jesus Christ," Arafat said in his 15-minute address in a circular conference hall at the heavily guarded Club des Pins convention center on the Algerian coast.
But Arafat also said, "I come carrying a freedom fighter's gun. The Palestinian revolution is a rifle and a stone in one hand and the olive branch in the other."
Sitting in the front row was Mohammed Abu Abbas, the convicted mastermind of the 1985 Achille Lauro hijacking in which American Leon Klinghoffer was killed. Abbas faces an international arrest warrant issued by the United States.
As Arafat entered the hall with Algerian President Chadli Bendjedid, delegates applauded wildly and began chanting in Arabic, "We will avenge our martyrs with our blood and our lives" in reference to nearly 300 Palestinian deaths in the uprising that began in December in the Israeli-occupied territories.
"We are going to achieve peace - and we need it," Arafat said. But "we will continue our revolution until the Palestinian flag is flying over Jerusalem."
Arafat also appealed to the newly elected Bush to aid in the Middle East peace process by formulating a new policy on the region. "I ask President Bush to have a new policy, not one that is aligned just to Israel," he said.
There are 448 member-delegates in the PNC but only 145 were in attendance at Saturday's opening session. Some 57 delegates living in Syria refused to accept the PLO invitation, while another 186 were unable to attend because they live in the occupied territories and would face prosecution by Israel if they attended.
Israel geared for the expected independence declaration by tightening control in the occupied territories, arresting hundreds of Palestinians and confining nearly 675,000 people to their homes.
Soldiers patrolled the deserted streets of the Gaza Strip in jeeps and trucks, enforcing an indefinite curfew to prevent violence with the start of the Algiers meeting.
Late Friday and early Saturday, more than 200 Palestinians were arrested in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Palestinian sources said. Military sources confirmed arrests had been made and raids had taken place but declined to specify how many people were nabbed in the offensive.
Before the session opened, Arafat told reporters U.N. Resolution 242, which recognizes Israel, is one of the options that might be adopted by the PNC but declined to state whether he backed its adoption.
"I am the chairman. I have to respect the process of democracy," said Arafat.
Palestinian sources said Arafat was pushing for adoption of the resolution over opposition of hardliners led by Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine chief George Habash.
Wrangling over the resolution was expected to dominate much of the weekend session, Palestinian sources said. Also to be decided was the status of Jerusalem in a theoretical Palestinian state and the wording of a reference to an international conference on the Middle East, which the PLO supports.