- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 4, 2001

JERUSALEM Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon yesterday canceled a planned trip to the United States this month, during which he was expected to meet President Bush. The move diminished hopes for new momentum toward negotiations with the Palestinians.
Meanwhile, the violence continued, with Israeli tanks firing shells and heavy machine-gun fire at security outposts in the Gaza Strip, killing a major in the Palestinian security forces at Deir el-Balah, south of Gaza City, Palestinian police and hospital officials said.
Heavy machine-gun fire into Beit Hanoun, north of Gaza City, knocked out the power supply there, residents said. The army said it was investigating the reports.
Mr. Sharon and Mr. Bush had tentatively scheduled a meeting for Nov. 11 during the U.N. General Assembly's annual debate in New York. But the Israeli leader decided to postpone his trip to the United States, as well as one to Britain, because of the security situation in the region, David Baker, a spokesman for Mr. Sharon, said yesterday. No new date was set.
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat will attend the U.N. General Assembly meeting from Nov. 10 to 12, Palestinian officials said.
Some analysts in Israel had expected that Mr. Sharon's U.S. visit would be a platform for an attempt to re-establish some sort of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, or that Mr. Sharon would be compelled to present a concrete proposal for breaking the political deadlock.
Israel has been under intense U.S. pressure to withdraw from parts of several West Bank towns it entered after a Cabinet minister was gunned down outside his Jerusalem hotel room Oct. 17. Israeli forces left Bethlehem and the nearby town of Beit Jalla last week.
The United States has also urged both sides to return to the negotiating table a call that in recent weeks has been repeated by Mr. Arafat. Mr. Sharon has said he won't negotiate while violence continues, although he didn't mention that condition last week in a speech referring to negotiations.
There has been a debate within Israel about whether Mr. Arafat would be able to ensure an absolute end to all violence given the diverse array of Palestinian security services and militant groups and whether demanding it might be a pretext by Mr. Sharon to avoid negotiations.
Mr. Sharon says he is ready for "painful compromises" but he also has indicated that he would not make offers as sweeping as those by his predecessor Ehud Barak, which were rejected last year by Mr. Arafat.
"There are those who believe that Sharon's problem is that the Americans expect him to present a plan to them, and he doesn't have one in stock," commentator Hemi Shalev wrote in the weekend edition of the Maariv newspaper.
Even as Mr. Sharon backed away from the meeting with Mr. Bush, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres met yesterday with Mr. Arafat on the sidelines of an economic conference on the Spanish resort island of Mallorca.
Mr. Peres said pullbacks could begin from other West Bank towns as soon as early next week, provided a cease-fire holds. Israeli troops remain in areas of Ramallah, Tulkarem, Jenin and Qalqilya. Israel says the incursions in the towns were necessary to maintain security after the slaying of the ultranationalist tourism minister, Rehavam Zeevi.
In more than a year of fighting, 739 people have been killed on the Palestinian side and 192 on the Israeli side.
Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Israelis massed in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square last evening for a concert marking the sixth anniversary of the assassination of former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, gunned down by an Israeli extremist opposed to his peace efforts.
"Peace now" and "Enough of the occupation," read some of the posters in the crowd that included Mr. Rabin's daughter, Dalia Rabin-Pelosoff, currently deputy minister of defense, and Mr. Peres.
Mr. Rabin was an architect of the original interim peace accords between the Israelis and the Palestinians.


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