- The Washington Times - Friday, April 12, 2002

JERUSALEM Secretary of State Colin L. Powell arrived in Israel last night for meetings aimed at getting Israel to withdraw from West Bank cities and Palestinians to halt suicide bombings and other attacks.
There was little reason to hope he would succeed on either count.
Hours before Mr. Powell's arrival here, Israel announced that it had withdrawn troops from two Palestinian towns and 22 villages but was also taking over two new villages and a refugee camp.
Mr. Powell, who is due to meet Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon today, said the redeployment fell far short of U.S. demands for an immediate and full withdrawal. Palestinians described it as a deception.
In the West Bank town of Jenin, the scene of some of the fiercest clashes in Israel's 2-week-old invasion of the West Bank, the fighting had largely subsided. Soldiers continued patrolling three other towns Bethlehem, Ramallah and Nablus looking for weapons and fugitives.
Before arriving in Israel, Mr. Powell told reporters in the Jordanian capital of Amman that Israel had taken some positive steps on the ground.
"I think [President Bush] has made his position clear: He wants the incursion stopped. He has noted some progress, but he wants to see more progress," Mr. Powell said.
On an earlier flight from Spain to Jordan, Mr. Powell told reporters that he would have a "very long conversation" with Mr. Sharon about the pace of the Israeli pullback from West Bank cities and villages.
Mr. Sharon has resisted U.S. pressure to end the offensive, the biggest in the West Bank in decades, vowing to flush out the Palestinian militants who are behind a spree of suicide bombings. The latest attack, aboard a bus on Wednesday, left eight persons dead.
Efi Eitam, a member of the National Religious Party appointed to Mr. Sharon's Cabinet just this week, said the task could take months.
"My professional opinion is that we need eight weeks to really crush the terrorists," said Mr. Eitam, a retired army general with a wide following among conservatives and devout Jews.
Mr. Powell, who is scheduled to meet Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat tomorrow at his bombed-out compound in Ramallah, will have to cross a thick line of Israeli troops and tanks and heaps of rubble to get to him.
Mr. Powell was briefed yesterday evening by U.S. special envoy Gen. Anthony Zinni, who has been unable during a month of mediation to broker a truce.
Though Mr. Sharon and Mr. Arafat prefer not to antagonize Washington, longtime observers of the region were almost unanimously pessimistic about the Powell mission.
"Unfortunately, I don't have much hope that the secretary can pull it off," said one Western diplomat actively involved in Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy.
In Amman, Jordan's King Abdullah II warned of "violence on a scale we've never seen before in the region" if Mr. Powell cannot secure an agreement.
"Arafat is in a strong position with the Arab public. Sharon is in a strong position with the Israeli public. They can use their strength to be able to put their differences aside," the king told CNN in an interview.
Mr. Powell made three stopovers on the way to Israel, leading some Arab officials to speculate that Washington was giving Mr. Sharon time to operate before applying real pressure for a pullout.
Any cease-fire would ideally give way to new peace talks, but Mr. Sharon appears closer to exiling Mr. Arafat than engaging him.
Thirty Israeli soldiers and an estimated 200 Palestinians have been killed since the fighting started March 29, two days after a devastating Palestinian bombing killed 26 persons at a seaside hotel.
Palestinians say their death toll is much higher than that, but Israel has prevented journalists from entering areas of fighting, making accurate casualty counts difficult.
The army said units rolled into the Palestinian-ruled towns of Bir Zeit and Dahariya and the Ein Beit Elma refugee camp near Nablus, arresting dozens of men, seizing arms and occupying buildings.
Bir Zeit is home to the West Bank's biggest university. Ein Beit Elma is one of the most crowded camps in the area.
In nearby Nablus, Israeli troops searched for weapons in tunnels under the Old City, where fighting had lasted for three days.
"We believe there are still guns and explosives underground," said an Israeli army commander, surveying the Old City from a Palestinian home that soldiers seized at the start of fighting in the city a week ago.
The commander, who refused to be named, described how 200 soldiers in his unit fought alley to alley and sometimes door to door to take control of their part of the city.
"The Palestinians set off explosives on every street. Sometimes, there were 10 bombs along a 10-meter stretch," he said, wearing a helmet and holding an M-16 automatic rifle. He said his soldiers had killed 26 armed men in the city.
Palestinians in Nablus and other cities have been under curfew for most of the past two weeks. In some places, damage caused by tanks has cut the flow of electricity and water.
Mohammed Dahlan, who heads a key Palestinian security service in the Gaza Strip, said towns that Israel had left were still under siege because troops were deployed around them.
"It is talk for television," he said about Israel's announcement of a withdrawal from two dozen towns. "It has no value on the ground."

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