- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 31, 2002

From combined dispatches

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip Civil rights activist the Rev. Jesse Jackson, in a move certain to anger Israel, plans to meet today with Sheik Ahmed Yassin, founder of the Muslim militant group Hamas, which has killed scores of Israelis in suicide attacks.

"The U.S. leader asked to meet leaders of Hamas during his visit to Gaza tomorrow, and Sheik Yassin welcomed this idea," Ismail Haniya, a Hamas official in Gaza City, said yesterday.

Yassin, a disabled and near-blind cleric, will receive Mr. Jackson at home, where the black activist will also meet other officials of Hamas, Mr. Haniya said.

"We said yes to this public meeting to permit us to explain our point of view. We will tell him of the suffering endured by our people and we will affirm our right to resist the occupation in conformity with international law," Haniya said.

Mr. Jackson yesterday visited Bethlehem where he embraced children in Manger Square and lit candles in the Church of the Nativity, revered by Christians as Jesus' birthplace and the scene of a standoff earlier this year between Palestinian militants and Israeli soldiers.

In a speech, Mr. Jackson called for President Bush to help end Israeli military occupation and build a Palestinian state.

"President Bush must use the power of the United States to enforce the U.S. policy and U.N. policy to seek reconciliation, to try and build statehood, to invest in reconstruction, to end occupation," Mr. Jackson said as Israeli armored personnel carriers drove by, a reminder of the city's thousands of people under curfew in their houses for all but about six hours a day.

On Monday, Mr. Jackson met Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who he said should be taken seriously as the leader of the Palestinian people. Mr. Bush wants a new Palestinian leader to replace the one he says is tainted by corruption and terrorism.

"His people have determined his relevance. The idea of invalidating another people's leadership is an undemocratic idea," Mr. Jackson told Israeli Army Radio. "I think that trying to invalidate Yasser Arafat is not a good use of time, and it will not work."

Mr. Jackson, 60, heads a delegation representing religious faiths that is also meeting rights groups, victims of violence and religious leaders in a five-day visit which began Saturday.

Mr. Jackson met Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres on Sunday and called on Israel to halt settlement construction in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip to help renew peace talks.

He also urged Mr. Arafat to choose nonviolence as a weapon in the 22-month-old Palestinian uprising for independence.

"Choose to get ahead and not get even," he urged Palestinians.

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