- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 10, 2002

CAIRO Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said yesterday he would meet with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat as well as Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon this week, and he offered to send U.S. observers to monitor a truce that he hopes to broker.

Mr. Powell said he was optimistic that his intensive round of meetings could lead to negotiations to create a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

"Time is of the essence" for ending Middle East violence, he said after meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Mr. Powell is seeking greater Arab participation in the peace process as well as an immediate end to Israel's military offensive.

It was the first time Mr. Powell had said expressly that he would meet Mr. Arafat during his trip to Israel, where he arrives tomorrow night. He has talks planned with both sides through the weekend.

The Palestinian leader has been isolated by Israeli forces in his headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah. Israel said it wouldn't try to stop the Powell-Arafat meeting.

Earlier, Mr. Powell had hedged, suggesting he would meet with Mr. Arafat only "if circumstances permit."

Mr. Powell said he had spoken to Mr. Sharon yesterday, and the Israeli prime minister had reiterated "his commitment to bring [military operations in the West Bank] to an end as quick as he can." Mr. Powell praised Israel for beginning to withdraw its troops from Palestinian areas but noted that fierce fighting persisted.

After 13 Israeli soldiers were killed in an ambush during heavy fighting yesterday in the West Bank refugee camp of Jenin, Mr. Sharon said in a nationally broadcast address that the Israeli operations would continue.

In the United States, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said President Bush expects Israel "to withdraw and to do so now. He's still looking for results."

Mr. Fleischer, traveling with Mr. Bush aboard Air Force One, said all parties have responsibilities. "The Arab nations' responsibilities are to exercise statesmanship, create an environment for peace by condemning terrorism, by stopping the funding of terrorists, by stopping the press that engages in hatred against Israel or Jews."

Working to fill in the details of a U.S. vision for a permanent peace, Mr. Powell said political objectives must be pursued alongside talks to end the current violence. He told the Arabs they must acknowledge Israel's rights.

In another bid to enhance the U.S. role in the region, Mr. Powell said the Bush administration was prepared to help monitor any cease-fire with American observers.

"That would help with the confidence-building, the restoring of trust between the two sides, get us back to where we were a few years ago," Mr. Powell said.

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