The United States says Israel has given it assurances it has no intention of harming or capturing Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. The Bush administration is blaming Chairman Arafat for failing to stop terrorism, including a terrorist attack in Israel Wednesday which Secretary of State Colin Powell says has helped end guarded optimism in Washington about resuming Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
The Bush administration, as it has so often over the past 18 months of Middle East violence, finds itself again calling on Yasser Arafat to do more to end terrorism, two days after a suicide bomber killed more than 20 people in the Israeli town of Netanya.
"Once again, terrorism, terrorism that targets innocent civilians, has dealt a serious blow to an effort to achieve a cease-fire and to find a political solution to the crisis in the Middle East," said Mr. Powell.
Secretary of State Powell stopped short of calling on Israel to end one of its largest incursions into Arab land since the invasion of Lebanon two decades ago. But in the administration's first reaction to the Israeli assault, he did urge Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to carefully consider the consequences of his actions.
"The Israelis have said to me that it is not their intention to occupy any of these areas and the only area they are in at the moment is Ramallah, for some extended period," Mr. Powell said. "They are going in to find terrorists, to pick up weapons and it is not their intention to occupy these places on a long term basis. We asked the Israelis to show the necessary restraint with respect to that activity so that they do not put Chairman Arafat's life in danger."
Mr. Powell spoke to Yasser Arafat late Friday, and a U.S. official said he warned him of the administration's grave concerns over a situation that is putting at risk the Palestinian dream of a homeland. At this point though, there are no plans to withdraw Middle East envoy Anthony Zinni who continues working with both sides in arranging a cease-fire, no matter how remote the chances at this point might be.
"We must not lose sight of the goal," said Mr. Powell. "We have to achieve an enduring and comprehensive peace for Arabs and Israelis alike. This is the future. This is what we must achieve and although things look dark now, we must have hope, we must continue to work and work hard. General Zinni for that reason will remain in the region."
But his two-week mission, his third to the region, has only been met with more violence. Secretary Powell Friday left open the possibility that the administration may soon have to turn to other options if it wants to remain engaged in the peace process, saying every option is under consideration.