- The Washington Times - Friday, April 19, 2002

President Bush said yesterday that he is satisfied with the pace of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's withdrawal from Palestinian cities and vowed to hold Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat "to account" for further acts of terror.
"Israel started withdrawing quickly after our call from smaller cities on the West Bank," Mr. Bush said before an Oval Office meeting with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, who returned hours earlier from a mission to the region.
"History will show that they responded. And as the prime minister said, told me, he gave me a timetable and he's met the timetable. This is good progress. I'm convinced that the secretary of state's trip helped achieve this progress."
On April 6, Mr. Bush had insisted that Israel withdraw "without delay" from cities it had occupied in the West Bank. Then on April 11, the White House backed off some, with spokesman Ari Fleischer saying Mr. Bush never expected Israel to "salute and say yes" in "a mere eight days."
Yesterday, the president also increased the pressure on the Palestinian leader to follow through on his condemnation of terrorism.
"Mr. Arafat did condemn terrorism, and now we will hold him to account," Mr. Bush said.
Mr. Powell, who did not achieve a cease-fire during his trip, said the peace process can begin only "if Chairman Arafat and those Palestinian leaders not only denounce violence but take action to act against those who continue to encourage violence and perform acts of terrorism and violence."
"The terrorism, violence has to stop. I made that message very clear."
The secretary also expressed satisfaction with the Israeli withdrawal, but said, "I hope it will be accelerated and we will bring that to an end as quickly as possible, because that is one of the difficulties that we have now in moving forward in the integrated strategy."
Amid criticism that Mr. Powell's mission was a failure because he was unable to secure a cease-fire, Mr. Bush said the region has been ripped by violence for "a long, long time."
"One trip by the secretary of state is not going to prevent that from happening, but one trip by the secretary of state laid out the framework and the path to achieve peace," Mr. Bush said. "The United States has an obligation to do just that, and he did."
Although it has taken Mr. Sharon nearly two weeks to comply with Mr. Bush's directive to withdraw immediately from Palestinian cities, he called the former Israeli general "a man of peace."
"I'm confident he wants Israel to be able to exist at peace with its neighbor. He's told that to us here in the Oval Office. He has embraced the notion of two states living side by side."
Mr. Bush also reiterated his call that all Arab nations in the region must become involved in solving the Middle East crisis.
"Neighbors in the region must condemn terror, cut off funding for terror, must make it clear that people who suicide bomb are not martyrs, that they kill or are murderers of innocent people," he said.
The president sought to excuse Israel's slow pace of withdrawal, saying terrorists holed up in the Palestinian cities of Bethlehem and Ramallah must be brought to justice. For instance, five suspects in the murder of Rehavam Zeevi, an Israeli Cabinet minister, are believed to be in a basement inside Mr. Arafat's compound.
"I can understand why the prime minister wants them brought to justice. They should be brought to justice if they killed this man in cold blood," Mr. Bush said.
The president began his day by reaching out to a key Arab leader, calling King Abdullah II of Jordan.
The king urged Mr. Bush to pressure Israel to withdraw immediately from Palestinian cities and end the siege on Mr. Arafat, confined to his compound since Israel began its military operation March 29.
Jordanian state news agency Petra said the monarch "emphasized the need for the United States to intensify its contacts with the concerned parties to end the current crisis and put practical solutions to end the Israeli siege and occupation and pave the way for peace negotiations."
Petra said Mr. Bush informed King Abdullah that he would be dispatching Mr. Powell for a second time to pursue his efforts to resolve the crisis. A senior State Department official said Wednesday that the secretary could return to the region next month.
CIA Director George J. Tenet probably will go to the region next week, but a final decision has not been made.
During a visit to a hospital yesterday, Mr. Sharon repeated Israel's readiness to take part in a regional peace conference he first proposed during Mr. Powell's trip.
"When we will reach a cease-fire we, of course, will be happy to enter a peace process with a coalition, a coalition of peace with Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and perhaps Morocco and the Palestinians. That's not the situation today, but I hope we will reach this situation," Mr. Sharon said.
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal yesterday also called for swift action to end the violence in the Middle East.
"Events in the region are heading for an abyss, and they will fall in it if nothing is done to control them in the immediate future," the prince told reporters after talks with his Russian counterpart, Igor Ivanov.
Said Mr. Ivanov: "We are seriously concerned with the humanitarian situation in the Palestinian territories. Urgent action must be taken to improve the situation of the Palestinian people."
Also yesterday, the United States told other members of the U.N. Security Council it would veto an Arab-sponsored call for a U.N. investigation of Palestinian claims of a massacre in the Jenin refugee camp.
The council was set to discuss the crisis in the Palestinian territories, but it was not clear whether Arab states would push for an immediate vote on their draft resolution.
A text submitted Wednesday by Syria, the sole Arab member of the council, would request that Secretary-General Kofi Annan investigate "the full scope of the tragic events that have taken place in the Jenin refugee camp."

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