JERUSALEM, Dec 27, 01 ( - Israel's government
made it clear on Wednesday that Palestinian leader Yasser
Arafat would not be allowed to travel to Bethlehem for
Orthodox celebrations of Christmas next month.

Israel had given an ultimatum to Arafat last week,
demanding he arrest the assassins responsible for the
murder of an Israeli Cabinet minister before he would be
allowed to go to Bethlehem for Christmas celebrations on
Tuesday. On Wednesday, Israel said the ban also applies to
Orthodox Christmas on January 6. The decision drew
criticism from the US, the European Union, the Vatican, and
the leaders of churches in the Holy Land.

Arafat, a Muslim, customarily attends Christmas
celebrations in Bethlehem.

Raanan Gissin, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel
Sharon, said that after the October 17 assassination of
Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi, for which Palestinian
militants claimed responsibility, Arafat pledged to bring
the killers to justice but instead allowed them to take
refuge in territory under his control.

"If he really thinks it's important to participate in this
ceremony, then by all means he should take responsibility
and act as a leader," Gissin said. "Once he assumes that
responsibility and takes that action there'll be no
limitation on his movements anywhere, whether he wants to
go to Bethlehem or anywhere else."