THE MIDDLE EAST Arafat admits he made mistakes, issues plea for legislative reforms
He called for greater inclusion of women in Palestinian politics.
RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) -- In a rare admission of wrongdoing, Yasser Arafat said today that he has made "mistakes" and promised to correct them.
The veteran Palestinian leader issued his plea for reform of the Palestinian Authority in an address to lawmakers at his battered headquarters in the West Bank town of Ramallah.
Arafat has been under growing pressure internationally and from critics at home to implement reforms in the authority, which is widely accused of corruption and ineffectiveness.
"We have to be brave enough to admit mistakes," Arafat said. "We fortify our commitment to correct those mistakes."
During the speech, Arafat was vague about the errors he believes he has made, but called for a "comprehensive workshop of reforms."
"It's true there were wrongs and unacceptable practices by me and many others. Even the prophets commit mistakes," Arafat said.
"There were wrong practices in some institutions, and some misused their positions. There were not enough efforts to strengthen the rule of law, the independence of the judicial institutions ... Be we have begun measures to solve this."
Arafat called for the greater inclusion of women and young leaders into Palestinian politics. "We must open the doors wide for our young generation to seize the opportunity to serve our people," he said.
Despite growing criticism, Arafat has refused to relinquish his powers, particularly his control over the myriad and rival Palestinian security services.
Meanwhile, Israel set off a mysterious explosion in an olive grove near the house of a senior Hamas activist today, killing five Palestinians and wounding seven. The strike came just before Prime Minister Ariel Sharon faced a key party test linked to his plan to withdraw from Gaza.
The military said it was an air force attack aimed at a Hamas militant, but witnesses in Gaza City's Shajaiyeh neighborhood said there was no helicopter in the area at the time and no sign of a missile strike -- the common form of Israeli air attacks against militants.
Instead, an unmanned Israeli aircraft was hovering overhead, and witnesses believe it triggered an explosive device by remote control. Palestinians said this has happened once before.
Palestinians said the explosion was near a house belonging to Hamas activist Ahmed Jabari. It was not clear if Jabari was hurt in the attack.
Two of the dead were identified as Hamas militants and another as a member of the militant group Islamic Jihad. The other two were not identified.
The strike came after Sharon approved construction of 1,000 new housing units in four large West Bank Jewish settlements, possibly with an eye toward a convention of his rebellious Likud Party today.
Though the construction would violate the U.S.-backed "road map" peace plan, U.S. reaction was muted compared to earlier statements denouncing settlement building. In Washington, State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said, "Our concern is to determine whether these tenders are consistent with Israel's commitments" to stop construction.
The settlement issue looms large today, when the central committee of Sharon's Likud Party is to meet to vote on whether the dovish Labor Party could enter the ruling coalition.