- The Washington Times - Friday, September 28, 2001

Pro-American Muslim nations cautioned the United States yesterday that failure to break the Israeli-Palestinian cycle of violence will hamper efforts to bring the Arab world into an anti-terrorism coalition.

The caveat, from visiting Jordanian, Turkish and Saudi officials, came as a gunbattle in the Gaza Strip shattered hopes for Middle East peace hopes that had surged a day earlier with an Israeli-Palestinian agreement to stop fighting.

King Abdullah II of Jordan offered his nation's support for the U.S.-led campaign against terrorism, but asked the Bush administration for urgent action to address the 53-year-old Middle East conflict.

The king told Secretary of State Colin L. Powell that the conflict has "a bearing on how we go forward in terms of dealing with the problem of terrorism," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said at a press briefing.

A senior Jordanian official traveling with the king said: "We have to address the root causes and move very fast on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It's important that the United States continue to play an effective role."

The king, who earlier met with National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, also had talks with the visiting foreign ministers of Turkey and Egypt, Ismail Cem and Ahmed Maher.

Today, King Abdullah will be the first Arab head of state to meet with President Bush since the Sept. 11 attacks.

In a gesture of appreciation for Amman's support in the fight against terrorism, the Senate approved a long-delayed free-trade agreement with Jordan on Monday.

Mr. Cem, who also held talks with Mr. Powell, said that ending the Middle East violence is "essential for the composition and effectiveness" of the coalition against terrorism.

"I have always advocated that U.S. presence and involvement in the peace process is the decisive factor, and no other country can play such a role," he told reporters.

In the Gaza Strip yesterday, Israeli troops fought a fierce battle with Palestinians, despite an agreement the night before to seek a lasting cease-fire that could boost U.S. efforts to build a global anti-terror alliance.

Three Palestinians were killed and 27 were wounded in overnight fighting in the Rafah refugee camp, close to the southern border with Egypt, after Israel sent tanks and a bulldozer to demolish houses, Reuters news agency quoted Palestinian officials as saying.

Troops later shot dead a 15-year-old schoolboy as he stood in a tense area of Rafah near an army post and killed a 30-year-old mentally disturbed man who strayed too close to a Jewish settlement in central Gaza, hospital sources told Reuters.

The United States said both sides must "break from their past practices" of provocation and retaliation.

"We've called on the Israeli government to halt the demolition of Palestinian homes and to halt the incursions by Israeli defense forces into Palestinian-controlled areas," Mr. Boucher said.

"For their part, we continue to call upon the Palestinian Authority to undertake sustained and effective steps to pre-empt violence, to arrest those responsible for planning and conducting acts of violence and terror," he said.

Visiting Saudi lawmakers this week said Osama bin Laden, the prime suspect in the terrorist attacks, "is exploiting the feelings of many Arabs with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."

"There is definitely frustration in Saudi Arabia and in the Arab world, especially those countries with strong relationships with the United States, to see the slowdown, the lowering of U.S. engagement in the peace process," said Bandar M. Aiban, chairman of the committee on foreign relations in the Saudi Consultative Council.

Abdulaziz bin Ibrahim Fayez, another member of the legislature, said many Saudis were "dismayed to see the United States withdraw from the peace negotiations."

"We saw what happened when the issue was left to the parties themselves to decide," he told reporters at the Saudi Embassy on Wednesday.

The senior Jordanian official said yesterday that part of King Abdullah's message is that "terrorism should not be linked to Arab and Muslim culture."

David Sands contributed to this report.

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