- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 20, 2001

The United States yesterday won a pledge from the European Union to "speak with one voice" on the Middle East and focus international pressure on Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
At the same time, there were signs of easing Israeli-Palestinian tensions after the Palestinian Authority announced it had detained 15 of its own security officers on suspicion of taking part in attacks against Israelis. The two sides held security talks last night for the first time since Israel cut ties with Mr. Arafat a week ago.
Hamas, the hard-line Islamic movement, said it was considering halting suicide bombings against Israel that the organization calls "martyrdom operations."
But in the Gaza Strip, Hamas militants fought a gun battle yesterday with Palestinian security forces trying to arrest one of the Islamic group's senior political leaders, witnesses and security sources said.
The shooting erupted after dozens of Hamas members surrounded the home of a Hamas higher-up, Abdel-Aziz al-Rantissi, when Palestinian police arrived to detain him.
At one point during the exchange of fire, Hamas members shot at a convoy of cars escorting Palestinian intelligence chief Amin al-Hindi, security sources said.
There were no immediate reports of casualties and Mr. al-Hindi was not in a car hit by gunfire, the sources said.
After talks with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell at the State Department, EU officials said their position on the Middle East was very close to that of the United States and that there were "a few signs" that things in the region were "going in a better direction."
They also echoed Washington's demand that Mr. Arafat do more to bring the violence down. The Palestinian leader called for an end to the suicide attacks against Israel in a televised speech Sunday night.
"What I have underlined here is the absolute necessity that we continue to pressure both parties, but certainly Chairman Arafat to go on implementing everything he has said in his speech," said Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt of Belgium, which currently holds the rotating EU presidency.
"And I think that with the good cooperation between the United States and the European Union, it's possible, certainly, to have new, better results in a short period of time," he told reporters.
Mr. Powell said he would meet with his special envoy to the Middle East, Gen. Anthony Zinni, today to discuss his recent three-week visit to the region and look for an opportunity for Gen. Zinni to return and "continue to pursue the quest for a cease-fire."
"We have not given up hope," Mr. Powell said. "There are some optimistic elements in the equation. There are some conversations taking place between security officials on the two sides."
That high-level Israeli-Palestinian meeting, which was held at an unspecified location and lasted 31/2 hours, tackled the issues of Israeli forces withdrawing from Palestinian territories and Israeli assassinations of wanted militants, West Bank security chief Jibril Rajoub told Voice of Palestine radio.
The last senior-level meeting was held on Dec. 11, when Gen. Zinni asked Israel to give Mr. Arafat's security services 48 hours to jail Islamic hard-liners who had carried out a wave of deadly suicide attacks, sparking a massive Israeli military response.
Last Thursday, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's security Cabinet decided to sever ties with Mr. Arafat and declared him "irrelevant."
The Palestinian Authority said yesterday that the 15 arrested officers are activists in groups affiliated with Mr. Arafat's Fatah movement.
According to Palestinian security officials, 180 suspected militants have been arrested since Mr. Arafat ordered a crackdown on Hamas and Islamic Jihad responsible for dozens of attacks, including suicide bombings.
* This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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