Wednesday, November 21, 2001

JERUSALEM Israelis and Palestinians readied themselves yesterday for talks with a new U.S. Middle East envoy, a tough retired Marine Corps general expected to press the two sides to stop 14 months of fighting.

Anthony Zinni is to arrive with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State William Burns at the beginning of next week, seeking to end the violence that has resisted successive U.S. cease-fire efforts, Israeli and Palestinian officials said.

Events on the ground made clear the challenge he faces. Israeli forces early yesterday entered a Palestinian refugee camp in the Gaza Strip and destroyed four houses before withdrawing, the military and witnesses said.

The military said two abandoned buildings were demolished because of frequent shooting attacks. But Palestinians said the demolition was unprovoked. Nazmia Abu Jazar, 35, said she had lived in one of the houses with her eight children.

Gen. Zinni, at 58 a career military man, could press his advantage to talk strategy with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who also is a retired general. Gen. Zinni can also speak to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in Arabic.

Gen. Zinni traveled in the Middle East and studied Arabic during four years as the top U.S. military commander in the area in the 1990s. He has also dealt with international disputes like the Ethiopia-Eritrea conflict.

Those who have seen him mediate say the retired Marine general prefers a thoughtful, pragmatic approach over head butting.

In the region yesterday, Israeli forces remained at the entrance of the Palestinian town of Jenin, despite repeated U.S. calls on Israel to withdraw its troops from Palestinian areas.

In nearly 14 months of fighting, 758 persons have been killed on the Palestinian side and 197 on the Israeli side.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell announced Gen. Zinni’s appointment as a special adviser in major policy speech Monday on the Middle East.

Later he said: “You’ll see what pushing and prodding is when Tony Zinni gets on the ground.”

Both sides are appointing high-level teams to meet with the U.S. emissaries.

Mr. Sharon said he and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres would head the Israeli side in talks to implement a cease-fire negotiated by CIA Director George Tenet in June but which never took hold.

Palestinian negotiator Ahmed Qureia said the highest officials in the Palestinian Authority, including Mr. Arafat, would oversee the talks.

Mr. Qureia welcomed Gen. Zinni’s appointment. “We are ready to cooperate with him,” he said. “It’s a good step.”

In his speech at the University of Louisville, Mr. Powell signaled a renewed U.S. engagement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict driven in part by concerns that the violence could erode Arab support for the U.S. war on terrorism.

He said Palestinians must stop violence, declaring their 14-month uprising to be “mired in the quicksand of violence and terror.”

Israel, he said, must accept a Palestinian state, lift restrictions on Palestinians and stop Jewish settlement in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

[Despite the appeal, Israel announced yesterday it will replace mobile homes in the Jewish settlement in the West Bank town of Hebron with concrete houses.]

Mr. Powell told reporters that Gen. Zinni would stay in the region to work on getting a cease-fire and then on implementing the report of an international commission headed by former Sen. George Mitchell on how to resume peace talks.

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