Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres says Israel is not engaged in a campaign to undermine Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, but is instead calling for him to arrest suspected terrorists. Mr. Peres is in Washington, where he us expected to urge the Bush administration to press Mr. Arafat to do more to end Israeli-Palestinian violence.
During the past week, Israeli forces have made their deepest push into the occupied West Bank in nearly a decade. The move is in response to what Foreign Minister Peres says have been continuing acts of terror against Israelis - including last week's assassination of a cabinet minister.
U.S. officials say Israel has given them assurances that military thrusts in and around at least six Arab towns will not be permanent.
But before meetings with Bush administration officials, Foreign Minister Peres told reporters an Israeli pullout will depend on the actions of Yasser Arafat, and his ability to rein in about a dozen suspected Palestinian terrorists. "He has to arrest 10 or 15 troublemakers, which are really initiating most of the terror," Mr. Peres said. "And he has to have his police force, which is 50,000-60,000 people strong, prevent the incursion of suicide bombers into Israel."
The Israeli foreign minister is nearly the only member of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's cabinet advocating continued dialogue with Yasser Arafat- who is facing a decision of whether to stop attacks by militant Palestinians or face further action by Israel. "People are asking, 'Is Arafat capable?' Nobody knows the answer," Mr. Peres said. "The real question, 'Is Arafat willing?' and he has to take the risk. If he will do it, then we can return to talk and negotiations."
Israel maintains it will not resume the peace process until a cease-fire is observed.
Meanwhile, the Bush administration again called for Israel and the Palestinians to each take immediate steps to stop what State Department spokesman Phillip Reeker describes as a deteriorating situation. "Both sides have to step back and consider where their actions are leading," Mr. Reeker said. "Failure on the part of the Palestinian Authority to confront terror in a decisive manner is absolutely unacceptable. Retaliatory actions by Israel can not produce lasting security," Mr. Reeker said.
U.S. officials say they are reinforcing that message to both sides in private. On Tuesday, Foreign Minister Peres meets with Secretary of State Colin Powell who, after two trips to the region this year, has been unable to get both sides to agree to a lasting ceasefire.