- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 15, 2003

GAZA, Jan. 15 (UPI) — The Palestinian Authority hailed on Wednesday the results of the one-day summit held in London to discuss Palestinian reforms and the resumption of the stalled Middle East peace process.

"This summit is Palestinian — and international insistence — to send a message to Israel to stop its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and get back to the negotiation table," Nabil Shaath, PA minister of planning told United Press International.

The conference went ahead Tuesday with Palestinian delegates speaking via a video link since Israel banned them from traveling to London after a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv killed 23 people.

Analysts said that London's summit produced tough messages for both sides, telling Israel not to undermine the reform efforts, and telling the Palestinians they must halt violence. The Palestinian delegation also put forward a draft constitution that included executive as well as security reforms.

The Palestinian grievance about the travel ban overshadowed much of the summit's substance, but observers considered its overarching purpose a success nonetheless: Britain showed it has more on its mind than Iraq's Saddam Hussein, and the United States, by sending a senior envoy — the assistant secretary for the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, William Burns — showed it is still engaged in that area of the Middle East.

Shaath said he expected practical measures soon to further Palestinian efforts to reform, with the aim of announcing the Palestinian constitution and ending the occupation.

"The obstacles Israel set out — to ban the Palestinian delegation from reaching London will never stop our determination to continue the peace process with our partners until the establishment of the Palestinian state," he declared.

But the Palestinian Authority Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat took a harsher note following the deaths of three Palestinians Wednesday at the hands of Israeli forces and the bulldozing of houses that reportedly belonged to militants.

Erekat laid blame for the day's incidents squarely at the feet of the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, telling UPI that he responded to the positive and constructive results of the summit held in London on Tuesday by killing more Palestinians and destroying more houses.

The three Palestinians killed were reportedly two school children and one mentally ill adult, all shot by Israeli soldiers in the northern West Bank.

He said that the Israeli government destroyed a house in the West Bank village of Qabatya near Jenin and shut down a Palestinian college, raided three Palestinian towns and gave demolition notifications to 19 families in Hebron.

"Once again we ask the Quartet Committee – the U.S., Russia, the U.N. and European Union, who always calls for Palestinian reforms — to break its silence and tell the world that the one who blocks reforms is Israel," said Erekat.

He said that the Israeli government in not only blocking Palestinian reforms, "but also blocking any Arab or international effort to bring the peace process back on track, and continues its military escalation."

Palestinian officials noted that negotiations within their own factions would continue. Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a top aide to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, said Wednesday that a delegation representing the more mainstream Fatah movement would head to Cairo in two days to continue the Palestinian national dialogue.

Rudeineh described previous dialogue between Fatah and other Islamic groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad as "positive," and said the aim "is to reach a Palestinian national agreement that serves the interests of the Palestinian people."

The major issue was expected to be halting suicide-bomb attacks in Israel, especially by Hamas and Islamic Jihad and especially those that kill Israeli civilians. They serve largely to give the Israeli government the excuse to continue its military operations in Palestinian territories, Palestinian officials have repeatedly argued.

Fatah movement officials revealed that Egypt had finalized a draft of a document that calls for ending the attacks, adding that the document was welcomed by Arafat, who is also the movement's leader. Other nationalist and Islamic factions were expected to consider the document and air their response in Cairo.

The wording of the Egyptian document reportedly includes a declaration supporting a cease-fire with Israel while reiterating the Palestinian people's right to struggle against occupation and for an independent state with Jerusalem as its capital. Egypt's representative to the London conference, Gen. Omar Suleiman, presented it to Arafat on Tuesday, sources said.

Meanwhile, the armed wing of Hamas, Izel Dein al Qassam, denied Israeli reports saying that the Islamic militant group has grenade launchers and long-range Qassam rockets in the Gaza Strip.

The group said in a leaflet distributed publicly, "We would never announce that we had any kind of weapons unless we tested them and used them to hit Israeli targets."

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