- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 18, 2001

From combined dispatches
JERUSALEM — Barely 21 percent of Israelis believe Prime Minister Ariel Sharon can end the Mideast violence, and his level of support is slipping, according to a poll released yesterday.
The Gallup Poll published in the Ma'ariv newspaper said 70 percent had lost faith in Mr. Sharon's ability to reduce tensions with the Palestinians.
In a Gallup Poll last month, 43 percent believed Mr. Sharon could end the violence, and 41 percent disagreed.
Mr. Sharon's own standing also took a beating, with 49 percent of the people approving of his performance as prime minister, while 42 percent expressed dissatisfaction. In last month's poll, 59 percent said they were satisfied.
The latest poll questioned 593 Israeli adults and had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.
Israeli police yesterday arrested two members of the militant group Islamic Jihad, which has claimed responsibility for many bombings.
Police said they stopped a car entering Israel from the West Bank, overpowered the Palestinians inside and found a bomb that weighed 22 pounds.
After police evacuated the Israeli Arab town of Baka al-Gharbiyah, a bomb-disposal robot fired four bullets at the bomb, exploding it on the main street of the town. There were no injuries.
Egypt yesterday tried to persuade the United States to agree to sending international monitors to the Middle East but it received no immediate response.
The United States has been reluctant to dispatch U.S. observers before the violence stops.
Osama Baz, national security adviser to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, called on the United States to step up its role in the peace process, warning that continuation of the U.S. "assist but not insist" strategy would only worsen the situation in the region.
During meetings in Washington with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and Condoleezza Rice, President Bush's national security adviser, Mr. Baz stressed Egypt's conviction that the Israelis and the Palestinians had "lost confidence" in each other and things won't change without mediation.
According to a diplomatic source familiar with the talks, Mr. Baz suggested that the monitoring mission include countries that Egypt thinks would be acceptable for both sides. The source mentioned Turkey, Canada, Egypt and Russia, as well as the European Union.
But a State Department official said the U.S. position on observers remains unchanged. He reiterated Washington's belief that Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader, can "do more" to curb the violence.
With the Mideast violence dragging into its 11th month, a growing number of Israeli politicians are talking about the possibility of Israel taking unilateral steps to separate itself from the Palestinians.
The Ha'aretz newspaper said a number of politicians were setting up a movement to push for unilateral separation, including Cabinet minister Dalia Itzik, and former minister Haim Ramon, both from the moderate Labor party, along with Michael Eitan from Mr. Sharon's hard-line Likud and Dan Meridor, leader of the Center party.
Separation efforts could include building a fence between Israel and the West Bank. Israeli troops now man checkpoints on the roads, but most of the border area can be crossed on foot.
Such plans would have to address how to handle the 200,000 Jewish settlers scattered throughout the West Bank.
Israeli opponents of unilateral separation say it would mean handing over large parts of the West Bank to the Palestinians without a peace accord.

Staff writer Nicholas Kralev contributed to this report from Washington.


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