- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 15, 2001

JERUSALEM The swift successes of anti-Taliban forces in Afghanistan has created apprehension in the Middle East that the United States will sooner than expected turn its attention to the region both in retribution and as a forceful peacemaker.
Early this morning, however, despite last week's withdrawals from several West Bank cities, Israeli forces entered a Palestinian-ruled town in the southern Gaza Strip, wounding at least 13 Palestinians, wire reports quoted Palestinian security sources and medical officials as saying.
A Palestinian security official said 12 armored vehicles, including tanks and six bulldozers, and troops had moved at least 700 yards into Khan Younis under the cover of dark.
Some families left their homes as both sides fired, the witnesses said. They said tanks had fired shells; one witness described the Israeli firing as "indiscriminate."
The Israeli army declined immediate comment. Yesterday, it said gunmen in the area had fired at the nearby Jewish settlement of Neve Dekalim, and troops had fired back. It also said a soldier had been wounded by Palestinian gunfire.
Washington appears to be focusing its attention on the long-standing Israel-Palestinian dispute that is widely regarded as a prime grievance feeding Islamist terror.
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell is preparing to deliver a major U.S. policy statement on the Middle East when he speaks Monday at the University of Kentucky in Lexington. There have been reports that Mr. Powell will follow up his remarks with a visit to the Middle East in two weeks, but this has not been confirmed.
Mr. Powell was reported yesterday as having said he had made a mistake several months ago by agreeing to Israel's demand that a week of Palestinian non-violence precede the implementation of the Mitchell Committee recommendations asking for resumption of negotiations between the two sides.
The Mitchell Committee is headed by former Sen. George Mitchell.
While Israel's demand had seemed reasonable at the time, Mr. Powell told European diplomats this week, it had effectively brought the peace process to a halt because Palestinian violence did not end, according to the Tel Aviv daily Yediot Achronot.
In his speech next week, Mr. Powell is expected to demand an immediate implementation of the Mitchell recommendations, including a total freeze in construction within Israeli settlements.
Jordanian Prime Minister Ali Abu Ragheb said this week that President Bush's recent statements supporting the creation of a Palestinian state was an "advanced position," and added, "we have heard about new U.S. ideas, and they will be declared soon."
Jordan's King Abdullah last week proposed that the entire Arab world guarantee Israel's security in return for the creation of a Palestinian state.
A senior Palestinian official, Bassam Abu Sharif, said this week that the United States and the European Union are expected to send envoys to the region at the beginning of December to begin hammering out with the parties details of a U.S. plan expected to be announced next week by Mr. Powell.


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