• TOP STORIES \ Dec 21, 2001
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    Israel bans Arafat from Christmas visit to Bethlehem
Israel bans Arafat from Christmas visit to Bethlehem Israel will ban Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat from visiting Christ's birthplace Bethlehem in the West Bank this Christmas unless he first arrests the killers of Israeli tourism minister Rehavam Zeevi, Israeli radio reported today.

"Yasser Arafat has not yet presented a request to go to Bethlehem, but if he did it would be turned down so long as he has not had the two killers of the minister arrested," said an official who asked to remain anonymous.

The minister of tourism was slain on October 17 in east Jerusalem.

The official also demanded the arrest of Ahmed Saadat, head of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestinian (PFLP) which claimed the assassination.

He said the three men were in the Palestinian autonomous zone of Ramallah in the West Bank.

Arafat usually heads the celebrations of the nativity, attending the midnight mass.

An official of the Roman Catholic patriarchate said it would be "arrogant of the Israeli authorities" to refuse Arafat permission to attend the Christmas ceremonies and "we very much hope he will attend."

Representatives of the Christian churches had met Arafat on Monday in Ramallah and the Palestinian leader had vowed to "go to Bethlehem even if he had to come on foot," a Christian leader who asked not to be identified told AFP.

Arafat, surrounded by Israeli tanks and with his helicopters destroyed in an Israeli air raid, has been blocked in Ramallah since December 3.