JERUSALEM - Israel released documents yesterday that it said were seized from Yasser Arafat's headquarters, showing that he personally authorized payments to gunmen he had promised the United States he would arrest.
Israeli officials referred to a memo and a two-page fax among truckloads of papers taken from Arafat's besieged headquarters as proof that Arafat supported terrorism by refusing to dismantle militias and signing off on payments to gunmen responsible for the deaths of Israeli civilians.
"This is the smoking gun," said Col. Miri Eisin of the army's intelligence branch. "The people being paid here aren't Palestinian policemen or employees. They are highly wanted terrorists. All these people did nothing but commit acts of terror against us."
Palestinian officials asserted the documents were fake. "They are obvious forgeries," said Saeb Erakat, the Palestinian Authority's chief peace negotiator. "They are produced to distract from the atrocities that are happening on the ground."
Israel said it was willing to turn over the documents to American experts for authentication. An American official in Washington, who spoke on the condition that he not be identified, said experts were examining a document disclosed earlier this week linking funds for making explosives to one of Arafat's senior aides. "It's not clear whether it's an authentic document," the official said.
The United States has named the Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, a militant wing of Arafat's political faction, as a terrorist group. But it is unlikely the Bush administration will name Arafat or his Fatah faction as terrorists based solely on the documents that Israel said it found in Arafat's headquarters.
Israeli officials said that one document was a Jan. 2 fax from Raed Karmi, the 28-year-old leader of the Aqsa Martyrs Brigades in the West Bank city of Tulkarm, to Marwan Barghouti, the West Bank Fatah commander. Titled "Urgent Financial Aid," the fax lists 12 people, all of them on an arrest list that American envoy Anthony C. Zinni presented to Arafat. Barghouti forwarded the fax to Arafat, adding a handwritten note: "I request of you to order the allocation of a thousand U.S. dollars for each of the fighter brethren."
According to Israeli officials, Arafat addressed a note at the bottom of the fax to a finance office - "Please allocate $350 to each" - and signed the document, which was sent by facsimile back Jan. 7 to Karmi. Karmi, who boasted that Israel could never kill him, died Jan. 14 in Tulkarm after a bomb in a cemetery wall exploded. Israeli sources have confirmed that Israel assassinated him.
Israeli officials said a second memo from Arafat's office came from Hussein al Sheik, a Fatah activist in the West Bank. He asked that $2,500 be paid to three men, including Karmi and Ziad Mohammed Daas, whom Israel accuses of having organized an attack that killed six people in Hadrea.
At the bottom, in what Israel officials say is Arafat's handwriting, is this note: "Allocate $600 to each of them." That order was signed the day it was received.