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Jackson Returns to US After Canceling Hamas Meeting - 2002-08-01

A peace delegation led by U.S. civil rights advocate Jesse Jackson has returned to the United States, after meeting with Israeli and Palestinian officials. Mr. Jackson says despite continued violence in the Middle East this week, he is hopeful that peace can be achieved.

Upon arriving at Chicago's O'Hare Airport Thursday, Mr. Jackson said the bombing at Hebrew University in Jerusalem Wednesday has left him with a heavy heart. "It will not end the occupation, or curfews or settlements. There must be some strength to stop the violence," he said.

Mr. Jackson led a delegation that included members of his Chicago-based Rainbow-PUSH Coalition, as well as representatives of the Jewish, Islamic and Christian faiths. He says he challenged Palestinian President Yasser Arafat to do all he can to end the series of bombings against Israeli citizens, and he pleaded with Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres to help end the humanitarian crisis in the Palestinian territories.

Mr. Jackson's delegation was scheduled to meet with the leadership of the Palestinian militant group Hamas, but cancelled that meeting after the Hebrew University bombing. Delegation member Nazir Khaja of the Islamic Information Center in Los Angeles said it was the right decision.

"Although, I believe in the near future, we would have to go back again to the dialogue table," he said. "Marginalizing an enemy and leaving him out of the loop of human discourse, discussion, is tactically wrong."

Hamas has accused Mr. Jackson of giving in to United States government pressure not to meet with the group. But, Mr. Jackson says the meeting was canceled out of respect for the bombing victims. Mr. Jackson repeated a plea he made before leaving, for the Bush administration to become more involved in negotiating with all sides to achieve peace the region.

"We must have enough outreach to the most threatening elements," he said. "We can not save our allies unless we talk to those who are the biggest threat to our allies."

The delegation spent Wednesday evening at Hebrew University, meeting and praying with some of the bombing victims. It also met with ordinary Israelis and Palestinians. Rabbi Steven Jacobs of Los Angeles says he left the region convinced that most Palestinians would rather see peace than continued suicide bombings.

"Hamas, from what we have seen, is a small group that controls the identity of the entire Palestinian people," he said. "The Palestinian people are, by and large, a people who are desirous of peace."

The delegation visited Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Ramallah at the invitation of the Lebanon-based Middle East Council of Churches.