Israeli Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says if he is elected prime minister in the upcoming polls, he will expel Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
In a televised speech Tuesday evening, Mr. Netanyahu said the new government's first order of business would be to force Mr. Arafat from the Palestinian territories.
Mr. Netanyahu, who is challenging Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for the leadership of the right-wing Likud Party, has been calling for Mr. Arafat's expulsion for months. But his remarks take on more significance now that he is in the government and trying to head the party favored to win the most seats in Israel's general elections.
Mr. Sharon has discussed the possibility of sending Mr. Arafat into exile, but has refrained from taking such action.
The United States, Israel's strongest ally, opposes such a move. U-N Secretary-General Kofi Annan Tuesday warned Israel against expelling Mr. Arafat, saying the international community would not favor such a move either.
The developments come as U-S envoy David Satterfield is in his second day of a visit to the region, holding talks with Israeli officials Tuesday and with Palestinians later.
Mr. Satterfield is pushing a so-called "roadmap" for Mideast peace that calls for establishment of a Palestinian state with temporary borders by the end of next year. On Tuesday, Mr. Arafat said Palestinians have accepted in principle the "roadmap," and would formally respond after consulting Arab states.
Meanwhile, Israeli forces have arrested three wanted Palestinians during a military operation into a refugee camp in the West Bank town of Tulkarm. The operation was part of the hunt for those responsible for the killing of five Israelis, including two young boys, in an attack Sunday at a kibbutz (communal farm) in northern Israel. The army did not say whether the gunman who attacked the kibbutz was among those detained.
In a village north of Tulkarm, Israeli troops demolished the family home of a Palestinian activist (Mohammed Naifeh), who, the army says, planned the attack on the kibbutz.
The Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades - an armed wing of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement - has claimed responsibility for the attack. Mr. Arafat says he has set up a committee to investigate.