- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 15, 2002

JERUSALEM Israeli raids aimed at rooting out Palestinian militants will continue, even though the large-scale incursion into the West Bank has ended, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told parliament yesterday.

Mr. Sharon also ruled out peace talks with Palestinians until all violence ends.

Meanwhile, Israeli forces raided four West Bank villages yesterday, killing two Palestinian intelligence officers and arresting 15 suspected militants, the army said.

"We will continue to fight terrorism by entering [Palestinian-controlled areas] when necessary," Mr. Sharon said. "There will be no sanctuary for terrorists."

Mr. Sharon was called to address the Knesset, Israel's parliament, after 40 lawmakers signed a petition demanding he explain his policies regarding a future Palestinian state.

Mr. Sharon did not mention the issue of a Palestinian state in his speech, though his own Likud Party, ignoring his advice, passed a resolution early Monday ruling out creation of such a state.

Instead, Mr. Sharon reiterated his refusal to restart peace talks until terror attacks end and the Palestinian leadership carries out fundamental reforms.

"There can be no peace with a corrupt terror regime that is rotten and dictatorial," the prime minister said in reference to the Palestinian Authority, headed by Yasser Arafat. "There must be a different authority."

Only then can the two sides work out an accord for a "long-term interim period," that could eventually be followed by a final peace agreement, he said.

The Palestinians have rejected Mr. Sharon's proposals, saying they will enter peace talks only if they are focused on a final settlement and creation of a Palestinian state.

Palestinian Cabinet minister Nabil Shaath said Mr. Sharon should not put conditions on the Palestinians.

"This is a new attempt to freeze the efforts that have been exerted to revive the peace process," Mr. Shaath said.

After 19 months of Mideast fighting and increasing hardship, Palestinians have grown critical of Mr. Arafat and the Palestinian leadership. However, Mr. Arafat's position still appears solid for now, and Palestinians say they alone will choose their leaders.

Mr. Sharon opposed the Likud resolution against a Palestinian state, saying it would tie his hands in negotiations and embarrass his government abroad. Despite losing that battle, Mr. Sharon's wider popularity with Israelis did not appear to suffer.

In a poll taken after the Likud decision and released yesterday, 63 percent of Israelis said they would support the creation of a Palestinian state accompanied by a peace agreement. The Dahaf Institute poll, which surveyed 501 Israelis and had a margin of error of 4.5 percent, found 55 percent wanted Mr. Sharon as Likud's prime ministerial candidate for next year's elections.

Meanwhile, Israel's army pressed ahead with West Bank raids.

The Israeli forces said they killed two Palestinian intelligence officials in the village of Halhoul, north of Hebron.

The head of Palestinian intelligence in the area, Khalid Abu Kheiran, was killed, along with one of his deputies. According to Israel, both men were responsible for many attacks against Israelis.

The army said they were killed in an exchange of fire. The army also said it arrested 14 Palestinians in three raids on West Bank villages near the towns of Tulkarm and Nablus

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