Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat today dismissed suggestions that he broaden a U.S.-sponsored cease-fire between Israel and his guerrillas into a general truce.
At a guerrilla rally here, the Palestine Liberation Organization leader said he would make no commitment beyond July's agreement not to launch raids into Israel from Lebanon.
Arafat's declaration appeared to be a public response to private urgings reported to have come from the United Nations, Western European states and, through them, the United States that his guerrilla movement avoid provoking Israeli leaders into a new attack on southern Lebanon, where PLO units are based.
Widely published reports say Israel may be planning such an attack. Arafat has predicted it a number of times in recent weeks.
Israeli leaders, speaking against the background of these reports, have accused Arafat's guerrillas of violating the seven-month cease-fire by building up forces in southern Lebanon and staging a raid Jan. 28 from Jordan.
With fears thus raised of another round of bloodshed in Lebanon, European envoys--and reportedly U.S. officials--have brought pressure to bear on Arafat in the past month, including warnings against any more commando raids into Israel or Israeli-occupied territory. The campaign also has included contacts with President Hafez Assad of Syria, who exercises considerable influence with Arafat.
"Everybody has been trying to cool it," said a diplomat involved in the exchanges.
Arafat's response to the quiet European appeals has remained private. But in the heat of today's rally, he clearly rejected them, to loud applause from an audience of Palestinians and symphathizers celebrating the 13th anniversary of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a Marxist group in the PLO.
The announcement in July of the cease-fire worked out by special U.S. envoy Philip Habib was carefully worded to say only that "all hostile military actions between Lebanese and Israeli territory, in either direction, will cease." It omitted any mention of the parties to the agreement and did not mention the word "cease-fire," but sources on all sides acknowledged that it was a tacit understanding involving Israel and the PLO. There is, however, no written document agreed to by both sides specifying the conditions or application of the agreement.
Arafat said today that the July agreement contained only a renewal of earlier Palestinian pledges "not to carry out military operations on Lebanese territory against" Israel.
"This was clear, and let the Western Europeans and Reagan hear me while they talk about a breach of the cease-fire in the Tyassir battle, which lasted 24 hours," he said. "I cannot declare a cease-fire so long as there is any occupied Palestinian land. And there is no Palestinian leadership that will agree to a cease-fire as long as there is occupied Palestinian land."
By the Tyassir battle, Arafat was referring to the Jan. 28 raid in which a group of guerrillas infiltrated into the West Bank and laid land mines before engaging in a gunfight with Israeli troops. Israeli authorities called the raid a cease-fire violation and said the infiltrators were to link up with other Palestinians inside the West Bank and deliver weapons and explosives for anti-Israeli violence.
In citing the raid, Arafat seeemed clearly to be refusing any commitment to prevent attacks on Israel except across the southern Lebanese border. Although Assad and King Hussein of Jordan strictly forbid raids from their territories for fear of Israeli reprisals, PLO guerrillas frequently have been able to sneak by Jordanian border patrols.
Israeli leaders publicly absolved Hussein of responsibility for the recent raid. But they blamed Arafat for violation of the cease-fire. In rejecting the European appeals that he take heed of Israel's definition, Arafat thus seemed likely to raise already high tensions in the area.
The Reagan administration, responding to the concerns, had been reported ready to dispatch Habib back to the Middle East to try to keep his cease-fire together. His trip has been postponed, however, because Syrian accusations of U.S. complicity in the recent unrest in Hamah has made cooperation with Assad's government difficult in the immediate future, the reports said.
In addition, Washington was said to have urged Prime Minister Menachem Begin directly to avoid any new Israeli attacks in Lebanon. The Reagan administration was embarrassed last July when Israeli planes bombed Palestinian guerrilla offices in a heavily populated neighborhood of Beirut, killing about 300 persons, by Lebanese government count.
The Saudi Arabian newspaper Medina reported yesterday that recent U.S. efforts also have included an attempt through British diplomats to convince Arafat to expand the July cease-fire into a permanent truce comprising raids launched on Israel from any territory. British Ambassador David Roberts conferred with Arafat here last week, but there was no indication whether this was the subject of their conversation.
U.S. diplomacy with the PLO often passes through British or other European officials. Under a pledge to Israel in 1975, U.S. diplomats are barred from official contacts with the Palestinian group.