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Arafat To Urge Stronger Chinese Role in Middle East - 2001-08-23

China is calling for "utmost restraint" from all parties in the Middle East, as Beijing prepares to host the President of the Palestinian Authority, Yasser Arafat. Mr. Arafat is expected to ask China to play a stronger role in the troubled region. Mr. Arafat's visit to China followed stops in Pakistan and India to brief leaders on the months of violence between Israelis and Palestinians.

The Palestinian Authority's Ambassador to Beijing, Moustapha Sapharinyin, says China has friendships with both Israel and the Palestinians. He says Beijing could help quell the violence that has taken about 700 lives since the latest wave of violence began last September. "We hope," Mr. Sapharinyin said, "the Chinese can increase their efforts, increase their influence in the Middle East conflict. But they play a good role and contribute a lot. But we hope also that China can contribute more than this."

China is one of five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, and until recently kept a fairly neutral stance in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

But this week, China criticized Israel's military and police for using "excessive force" in dealing with Palestinians. Beijing also backed a Palestinian proposal to send international observers to the region - an idea opposed by Israel.

Analysts say in the long run, China is likely to try to keep good relations with both sides. There are long standing ties of friendship between the Chinese and the Palestinians, but Beijing would like to have Israeli technology to upgrade China's antiquated military forces.

Earlier, Mr. Arafat held talks with the Prime Minister of India and the President of Pakistan, where analysts say he likely briefed them on the Palestinian view of the continuing crisis. They say he sought support for the plan to send international observers to monitor the fighting between the Israelis and Palestinians.

In India, Mr. Arafat said his people face aggression and violence and he appealed for the help of the Indian leadership. After private talks with Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf, Mr. Arafat thanked Pakistan for its "strong support" for the Palestinian cause.