- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 30, 2002

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell yesterday blamed Palestinian terrorists for triggering the Israeli attack on Yasser Arafat's compound.
But he urged Israel to exercise restraint to spare civilian lives.
"Israel is trying to defend itself," Mr. Powell told reporters at the State Department yesterday as Israeli troops battled Palestinian guards room to room in Mr. Arafat's Ramallah compound.
"Once again, terrorism terrorism that targets innocent civilians has dealt a serious blow to the effort to achieve a cease-fire and to find a political solution to the crisis in the Middle East."
Palestinian terrorists, including two suicide bombers, have killed more than 30 Israelis since the start of the weeklong Passover holiday, which began Wednesday evening.
Prospects for any cessation in the 18-month-old fighting between the Israelis and the Palestinians dimmed after the suicide bombing at a resort hotel, followed yesterday by the Israeli seizure of the Arafat compound. The soldiers then confined the Palestinian Authority leader to the second floor of a three-story building.
Mr. Powell said Palestinian attacks had stalled recent U.S. efforts to help negotiate a pause in the fighting. "And let's be clear about what brought it all to a halt: terrorism terrorism on the part of those who would target innocent civilians, innocent civilians going about their daily lives, shopping, trying to assemble in a restaurant, to celebrate an important occasion in their religious life," he said.
The secretary of state spent much of yesterday on the phone with leaders in the Middle East and elsewhere, and he said U.S. special envoy Gen. Anthony Zinni will remain in the region and continue to seek a truce.
"While we understand the Israeli government needs to respond to these acts of terror and the right of the Israeli government to decide what actions best serve the interest of the Israeli people, we call on Prime Minister [Ariel] Sharon and his government to carefully consider the consequences of those actions.
"Chairman Arafat is the leader of the Palestinian people, and his leadership is now even more central to trying to find a way out of this tragic situation."
Hours earlier, Mr. Sharon had declared the Palestinian leader an enemy of Israel.
Reached at his besieged office yesterday by CNN, the cable-TV network, Mr. Arafat exploded in anger when a reporter asked whether he could control terrorist attacks on Israel, as demanded by Mr. Powell and President Bush. He is the victim, he said, and his people are powerless to do anything while surrounded by Israeli tanks.
"Are you asking me, who is under a complete siege?" he asked correspondent Christiane Amanpour. "You have to be accurate when you are speaking to General Yasser Arafat. Be quiet. You are covering the terrorist occupation and the Israeli crimes. Thank you. Bye, bye."
Then he slammed down the telephone in fury.
Mahmoud Abbas, the deputy chief of the Palestine Liberation Organization, accused Mr. Powell of being "biased towards Israel." Said he, in an interview with Al Jazeera network: "We regret infinitely that Powell is totally biased, and we have the feeling that the United States has given them [Israel] the green light."
President Bush, observing the Easter weekend at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, held a National Security Council teleconference yesterday with Vice President Richard B. Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Mr. Powell and several other officials in the administration.
Mr. Powell said Mr. Sharon told him in a telephone conversation that Israel's plans did not include "bringing any harm to Chairman Arafat or killing him. … It is not their intention either to capture him. They have determined to isolate him."
The secretary of state also spoke for a half-hour yesterday with Mr. Arafat in his new quarters, surrounded by Israeli soldiers who occupy floors above and below his offices.
Mr. Powell spoke as well with the leaders of the United Nations, and the heads of the Arab League and European Union, whom he urged to persuade Mr. Arafat to condemn terrorism. He warned the Palestinians against continuing the violence and the Israelis against retaliation. "The president and I are gravely concerned at the situation today in Ramallah. We deplore the killing and wounding of innocent Palestinians there," Mr. Powell said.

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