- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 7, 2002

The United States yesterday issued its harshest criticism yet of Israel's handling of the Palestinian uprising, demanding that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon take a "hard look" and reassess his policy.

In the region yesterday, 12 Palestinians and two Israelis were killed in what has amounted to the bloodiest week since the second intifada began 18 months ago.

Early today, another Palestinian was killed and three others injured by fire from a helicopter gunship during an Israeli army incursion into the Palestinian-controlled territory of Tulkarm in the northwest of the West Bank, Palestinian security sources said.

The sources said Yusef Chahadeh, 30, was killed by a rocket in the refugee camp of Nur el Chams. The three other Palestinians were injured by the same rocket, including one seriously.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, speaking for an administration that has swung back and forth between criticism and solid support of Mr. Sharon, delivered his sharp reproach to the Israelis during testimony on Capitol Hill.

"Prime Minister Sharon has to take a hard look at his policies to see whether they will work," he said. "If you declare war against the Palestinians thinking that you can solve the problem by seeing how many Palestinians can be killed, I don't know that that leads us anywhere."

Mr. Powell repeated Washington's oft-stated appeal to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat who is confined by Israel to the city of Ramallah to crack down harder on Palestinian militants.

"He may be under restraints. He can't move around freely. But he has the ability to call people, to talk to people and give instructions. So I think he can do more, and he should do more," the secretary told the House Appropriations commerce, justice, state and judiciary subcommittee.

The White House declined to say whether the United States would ask Israel to let Mr. Arafat attend an Arab League summit in Beirut on March 27 and 28.

"That meeting is not scheduled for some time, and Chairman Arafat has many opportunities to communicate in the region, so I think that is something you might want to talk about a little closer to the meeting," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer told reporters.

Mr. Sharon said yesterday that before Israel can resume peace talks with the Palestinians, "they must first be hit hard, so that they understand terrorism will achieve nothing."

"Only after they are beaten will we be able to hold talks, and I want a peace deal," he said.

The prime minister, completing his first year in office with his approval ratings at new lows, spoke to Israeli troops and officials at a military checkpoint south of Jerusalem.

"This is a really tough war we are in," he said. "This will be an aggressive and continuous campaign without letup."

Israeli warplanes and helicopters pounded Palestinian security targets in waves of air strikes yesterday. Missiles hit a storage building in Mr. Arafat's headquarters, but he was unhurt in his office, Palestinian security officials told news agencies.

Seven Palestinians were killed in Gaza, Palestinian officials said, and five others died in separate incidents, including a Hamas activist killed in an explosion at his Gaza City home.

The casualties also included an Israeli soldier killed in an ambush and an officer killed near the Khan Younis refugee camp, reports from the region said.

Mr. Powell said "no issue is of a higher priority to the United States" than the Middle East. Washington is "encouraged" by new peace initiatives, he said, but "not satisfied that both sides have thought through the consequences" of their actions.

Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia last month proposed normal relations with Israel in exchange for its withdrawal to pre-1967 borders.

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