- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 14, 2002

JERUSALEM Secretary of State Colin L. Powell has agreed to meet today with Yasser Arafat now that the Palestinian leader has issued a condemnation of terrorist attacks on Palestinian and Israeli civilians.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher praised the brief statement as "containing a number of interesting and positive elements," including a condemnation of Friday's suicide bombing and a call to implement U.S.-proposed peace plans.
But Israeli officials promptly dismissed the statement, and Hamas a group linked to many of the recent attacks vowed to carry on with its attacks.
Mr. Powell's mission is taking place against a tapestry of destruction, with Israeli forces entering more towns and villages in the West Bank and horrific images coming out of the Jenin refugee camp.
Aside from Nablus, Israeli forces remain in three other main West Bank towns Jenin, Bethlehem and Ramallah as well as villages. The army announced yesterday it had entered six additional West Bank villages, arrested 40 suspected militants and faced sporadic resistance in several areas.
Mr. Powell will travel under heavy security to the ruined compound in the West Bank town of Ramallah, where Mr. Arafat has been detained for the last 18 days. However, there were limited expectations for what the conversation could accomplish.
The statement distributed yesterday afternoon in Arabic by WAFA, the official Palestinian news agency, said: "President Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian leadership condemn all terrorist acts, whether they are aimed at Israeli or Palestinian civilians and whether these terrorist acts are carried out by a state, groups or individuals.
"This condemnation is based on the principle of rejecting all violence and terrorism against civilians, which are used as means to achieve political goals.".
Mr. Powell consulted by telephone with King Abdullah II of Jordan, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and European officials before deciding to go ahead with the meeting, sources said.
"In his meeting tomorrow, the secretary will work with Chairman Arafat and the Palestinian leadership to show leadership and to help make these statements a reality with effective action to bring an end to terror and violence and an early resumption of a political process," Mr. Boucher said.
The Arafat meeting, originally scheduled for yesterday, was postponed after a suicide bomber on Friday killed six Israelis and wounded scores of shoppers on a crowded street in central Jerusalem.
The Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, which is linked to Mr. Arafat's Fatah movement, claimed responsibility for the bombing.
The political adviser to Hamas, Ismail Abu Shenab, dismissed Mr. Arafat's statement as the product of U.S. and Israeli pressure.
He said attacks will continue "because we are open to all alternatives to resist occupation."
The Israeli government quickly rejected the Arafat statement as "unsatisfactory by any criteria."
"It's a paper that was written, I don't know by whom, and sent around the world by fax," said Daniel Ayalone, an adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. "It was not delivered in his own voice. The wording is very equivocating. In fact, it's quite an understatement."
He also demanded "concrete benchmarks" from the Palestinians, such as rounding up identified suspects and illegal weapons in the Gaza Strip, or ordering a cessation of hostilities.
The Palestinan statement calls for an "immediate implementation" of the cease-fire plans put forward by CIA Director George J. Tenet and former Sen. George Mitchell, and recognizes the "option" of two states living in peace and security.
But it also expressly condemns state-sponsored terrorism, as the Palestinians refer to the Israeli army's "massacres against Palestinian civilians and refugees" in Nablus, Jenin and the Chuch of the Nativity in Bethlehem.
The Israelis say they are fighting battles with armed combatants, not slaughtering civilians. It has acknowledged killing 200 Palestinians, although many say that number is low by at least half.
Mr. Powell yesterday met with representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross and the U.N. refugee agency, all of whom expressed grave fears about the humanitarian crisis unfolding in areas under Israeli command.
Mr. Powell later issued a statement calling on Israeli forces to "exercise the utmost restraint and discipline and refrain from the excessive use of force."
The U.N. Relief and Works Agency told Mr. Powell that thousands are now homeless in the Jenin camp.
Aid workers and other independent observers have been barred from the area, even as there have been persistant eyewitness reports about Israeli soldiers shooting unarmed civilians, or bulldozing houses with families inside.
In addition, concern is mounting for those who are living without water, electricity or sanitation in the rubble of their homes.
The Israeli army has been planning to bury the bodies of those they call terrorists in mass graves on Iraeli-controlled land. Palestinians say this is an attempt to cover up hundreds of civilian deaths.
But the Israeli High Court ordered a temporary halt to the mass burials after members of the Knesset, or parliament, filed an injunction. A hearing is expected today.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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