- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 16, 2001

The most senior Palestinian official to visit Washington during the Bush administration failed yesterday to win a White House invitation for Yasser Arafat.
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell met yesterday with Mahmoud Abbas, the No. 2 official in the Palestinian leadership after Mr. Arafat, in an effort to halt spiraling Middle East violence.
The meeting, which included National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, was "a good and long discussion" of all the issues in the Middle East including violence, the economy and the need to return to peace talks, said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher.
Asked if there was any change in either the U.S. refusal to invite Mr. Arafat to the White House or other issues, Mr. Boucher said, "Im not claiming" any breakthrough.
Mr. Abbas, also called Abu Mazen, is the highest Palestinian official to come to Washington since the Bush inauguration. He left the State Department without meeting with reporters.
The meeting took place as clashes erupted in the Middle East while Palestinians observed Nakba, or Catastrophe Day, marking the start of the displacement of 700,000 Arabs after Israel declared its independence in 1948.
Mr. Powell also faced calls yesterday on Capitol Hill to cut off U.S. aid to the Palestinians because of their refusal to halt violence and to Egypt over anti-Semitic statements in the government-controlled press.
Mr. Powell told a congressional panel that U.S. aid should not be cut because Egypt was playing an important role in the efforts for peace.
Mr. Arafat, leader of the Palestinian Authority, gave a defiant television address to his people, vowing to never surrender to Israeli force.
"Victory is just an hour away," he said.
Raanan Gissin, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said Mr. Arafat had "missed an opportunity" to demand an end to violence and called the Nakba "the so-called calamity that occurred because [the Arabs] failed to destroy us in 1948."
For three minutes at midday, thousands of Palestinians all over the West Bank and Gaza Strip halted the fighting and their daily activities to stand in silence as sirens wailed to observe the beginning of the Palestinian diaspora 53 years ago.
The fighting resumed when the silence ended. At the end of the day, Israeli forces had killed four Palestinians and wounded 130. One of the dead was a bodyguard for Sheik Ahmed Yassin, the chief of the militant Hamas Islamic movement, which the State Department has labeled a terrorist organization.
An Israeli woman was killed as well when Palestinians fired on her car near the Israeli West Bank settlement of Maale Michmash, an Israeli army spokeswoman said.
Now increased to perhaps 4 million, the Palestinian refugees are spread across the West Bank and Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and elsewhere in the world. They demonstrated in Lebanon and Jordan, where American flags were burned.
Inside Israel, some of the million Israeli Arabs visited former Palestinian villages to call for the return of the refugees, one of the demands that led to the collapse of the peace process last summer when Israel rejected the concept.

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