Arafat predicts Palestinian independence in 2002


Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has predicted that 2002 will bring independence to the Palestinians.

Mr Arafat delivered his year-end speech on Palestinian television after thousands of Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip took to the streets to hold rallies and to bury those killed a day earlier in confrontations with Israeli troops.

The Palestinian leader has made similar forecasts for the past several years, when ongoing peace negotiations with Israel offered the prospect of a resolution to decades of conflict in the Middle East.

But the talks collapsed in January amid the violence. Repeated efforts to reach a cease-fire failed, and the year ended on a gloomy note as six Palestinians were killed in confrontations with Israeli soldiers in the Gaza Strip.

Israel said all six were attempting to carry out attacks.

"It is true that there are some people in Israel who ... still believe that the tank, the helicopter and bulldozers are the only way to deal with the Palestinian people," Mr Arafat said in a speech from his West Bank office in Ramallah.

"But," he added, "we have the honour to declare 2002 the year of independence and liberty. And I am sure that a little boy or girl will raise the Palestinian flag over the walls, mosques and churches of Jerusalem, the capital of our independent Palestinian state."