- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 3, 2002

The U.S. envoy for the Middle East, Gen. Anthony Zinni, arrives in the region today on a second mission that will focus on getting Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to dismantle terrorist cells as a way to reduce violence, the State Department said yesterday.

Gen. Zinni, who failed to broker a cease-fire during his first trip in late November and early December, will also discuss with Israel economic measures "to ease the pressure on the Palestinian population," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters.

But Mr. Boucher declined to echo Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's demand for seven days of calm as a precondition for a formal truce.

"It's not a question of endorsing one or the other side's criteria or ideas," he said. "It's a matter of working with both sides to get them to take steps that can effectively end the violence . I haven't been counting days of quiet, if you've noticed."

The Palestinians, who argue that the relative quiet of the past three weeks warrants moving ahead with truce proposals, accused Israel yesterday of trying to undermine Gen. Zinni's mission by insisting on a seven-day period with no violence.

"The impossible terms and conditions [Mr. Sharon] is setting could sabotage the Zinni mission before it has begun," Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said.

Gen. Zinni, a retired Marine Corps general, first arrived in the region on Nov. 26, but returned to Washington in mid-December after a surge in violence that included several suicide bombings.

No Israeli has been killed since Mr. Arafat called for an end to attacks against Israel in a Dec. 16 speech, and his security forces have arrested dozens of suspected militants.

The "reduction in violence in the region" justified Secretary of State Colin L. Powell's decision to send Gen. Zinni back, Mr. Boucher said. This time, though, the end of his trip early next week has been planned in advance, instead of saying he'll return when it's appropriate.

"The involvement of the United States, the involvement of Gen. Zinni continues," Mr. Boucher said. "His return is part of the continuing U.S. effort to help the parties end the violence, restore confidence, and resume a political process. At this stage he's going out there to talk to them about practical formulas to move forward, and then he'll come back and talk to the secretary."

Mr. Boucher said Gen. Zinni would press the Palestinian Authority "to combat terror and to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure, and to promote a continued reduction in the level of violence."

"We continue to urge Chairman Arafat and the Palestinian Authority to continue their efforts, including arrests of terrorists in the Palestinian territories and firm actions to dismantle terrorist networks and institutions," he said.

Washington's envoy would also encourage "direct contacts between the parties to combat terror more effectively" and create conditions for the implementation of a truce plan worked out by CIA Director George J. Tenet last year, as well as the recommendations of a committee headed by former Sen. George J. Mitchell, Mr. Boucher said.

Mr. Sharon yesterday told visiting Norwegian Foreign Minister Jan Petersen that the number of Palestinian attacks had declined as a result of Israeli army operations and not Mr. Arafat's actions.

"Arafat is not carrying out operations to foil attacks or make arrests, and has not at all arrested the killers of Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi," Mr. Sharon said in a statement.

He also said the Palestinian leader would remain confined to his Ramallah headquarters in the West Bank until he arrests the killers of Mr. Zeevi, who was assassinated in October by members of the Popular Front for Liberation of Palestine.

Israel insists that Mr. Arafat dismantle Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the militant Palestinian groups that have taken responsibility for suicide bombings in Israel. Since those attacks, Israeli troops have raided Palestinian territory nine times and arrested 45 suspected Palestinian militants.

Mr. Boucher said the Bush administration always intended to send Gen. Zinni back to the region after his unsuccessful first mission last month.

cThis article is based in part on wire service reports.

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