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US Criticizes Israeli Detention of Sari Nusseibeh - 2001-12-18

The United States has sharply criticized Israel for its brief detention Monday of Sari Nusseibeh, the Palestine Liberation Organization's top-ranking official in East Jerusalem.

The Bush administration has refrained from critical comments about tough Israeli military moves in the West Bank and Gaza which have followed anti-Israel terror attacks in recent weeks. However, it has leveled sharp criticism of the Ariel Sharon government for its arrest for questioning Monday of Sari Nusseibeh, the PLO's commissioner for Jerusalem and a leading Palestinian moderate.

Mr. Nusseibeh, who was named to the post in October by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, was detained for about 90 minutes Monday after defying a police order not to hold a post-Ramadan reception for foreign diplomats at an East Jerusalem hotel.

Briefing reporters, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher called the Israeli move provocative. "We think that actions such as that by Israel in detaining Dr. Nusseibeh are provocative, they're counterproductive," he said. "We've expressed these concerns directly to the Prime Ministers' office. As we've said before, Israel needs to focus on the repercussions of the actions it takes, and both sides need to take decisions and actions that facilitate, rather than complicate the process."

An official here said the arrest of Mr. Nusseibeh - which Israel insisted was terrorism related - could not been seen as an act of self-defense and was, in his words, "out of bounds" as far as Washington is concerned.

The incident and US response underscores the sensitivity of the issue of Jerusalem, which Israel insists will be its undivided capital, while the Palestinians want the Israeli-annexed eastern part of the city to be the capital of a future Palestinian state.

In a separate action, the White House announced that President Bush was invoking national security considerations and suspending for another six months compliance with an act of Congress mandating the move of the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. It was the second such waiver issued by the president, who had supported relocating the embassy during his campaign for the White House.

Mr. Bush said in a written statement Monday his administration "remains committed to beginning the process of moving the embassy to Jerusalem."

Only a few countries have their Israel embassies in Jerusalem. The United States has long held that the question of the city's political future should be settled in final-status negotiations between the parties.