- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 16, 2004

SOUTHERN SHUNEH, Jordan — Secretary of State Colin L. Powell blamed Yasser Arafat yesterday for blocking U.S. efforts to make Palestinian security forces strong enough to end terror attacks on Israel.

Winding up his latest effort to push peacemaking forward, Mr. Powell also criticized Mr. Arafat for a statement the Palestinian leader made Saturday urging his people to “find whatever strength you have to terrorize your enemy.”

In Jerusalem, Israeli officials said they will demolish hundreds more homes in a Palestinian refugee camp if violence and weapons smuggling in the Gaza Strip camp persist. Israel also plans to make wider use of air strikes in Gaza, the defense minister was quoted as telling the Cabinet.

Early today, Israeli helicopters fired five missiles into an office run by Mr. Arafat’s Fatah movement in Gaza City, witnesses said. No one was hurt in the attack, which came just after midnight. The Israeli military would say only that the air strike was aimed at two offices in the same building that were “focal points for terrorism.”

“Mr. Arafat continues to take actions and make statements to make it exceptionally difficult to move forward” on peacemaking, Mr. Powell said at a press conference before returning to Washington from the World Economic Forum.

He said Mr. Arafat “refuses to allow consolidation of security forces” among the Palestinians, a key U.S. demand intended to curb terror attacks and motivate Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to pursue a settlement with the Palestinians.

“What I need from the Palestinians is for them to get themselves ready to exercise solid political control over Gaza when it’s turned back to them and to put into place security forces that can do that,” Mr. Powell said later in an interview with ABC’s “This Week.”

“What they need to do is to wrest control of the security forces from Chairman Arafat. … The Palestinian leaders can do it and the leaders of the Arab world can do it by saying to Chairman Arafat that ‘your policies have not been successful, your leadership has not be successful in moving this process forward.’”

Israel’s latest warning to demolish houses came after 13 Israeli soldiers were killed last week during operations to close tunnels and other routes used to smuggle weapons into the Gaza Strip from Egypt.

Seven of those deaths occurred in the Rafah refugee camp, which abuts the border. In response, army bulldozers demolished 88 houses in Rafah on Friday, according to U.N. refugee workers who said some 1,000 people were left homeless.

Mr. Powell yesterday added his voice to those of international human rights groups who condemn the practice as collective punishment.

“We don’t think that is productive,” he said. “We know Israel has a right for self-defense, but the kind of actions that they’re taking in Rafah, with the destruction of Palestinian homes, we oppose.”

At the weekly meeting of the Israeli Cabinet, the army chief, Lt. Gen. Moshe Yaalon, told ministers the military has marked hundreds of homes along the border for demolition if violence continues, participants said.

The homes would be razed in order to widen the Israeli patrol road between the camp and the border. The road is 6 miles long and was initially 25 yards wide.

Since the outbreak of fighting, Israeli troops have torn down hundreds of Rafah homes abutting the road and widened the buffer zone to about 200 yards in some areas.

A senior Israeli army officer, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the military wants to widen the entire zone to as much as 250 yards — which could require the destruction of many more houses.

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