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Farrakhan Plans to Visit Mideast as Peacemaker

Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan said he will visit the Middle East next month to act as a peacemaker between Israel and the Palestinians. He is also criticizing the Bush administration for its policies in the region.

Minister Louis Farrakhan says he and a group of religious leaders will visit Israel in May, hoping to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, as well as the leaders of the militant groups Hezbollah and Hamas.

Mr. Farrakhan said the Israelis and Palestinians have reached a point where they cannot resolve their problems alone. Minister Farrakhan said, "I have met practically all of the leaders of the Muslim world and I believe I can be of help."

Whether anyone in the Israeli government wants to talk to Mr. Farrakhan remains to be seen. In past speeches, he has referred to Judaism as a "gutter religion," though more recently he has met with Jewish groups in the United States and toned down his anti-Semitic rhetoric.

The vice president of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, Michael Kotzin, thinks Mr. Farrakhan might be wasting his time. "I think his record, the kinds of things he earlier has said about Israel and the Jewish people's State of Israel do not leave him being a viable option," he said.

In a news conference at his Chicago headquarters, Mr. Farrakhan accused President Bush of a hypocritical Middle East policy. He said the administration has backed a U.N. Security Council resolution calling for an Israeli troop pullback while not strongly opposing Israel's military action in the Palestinian territories.

He said peace in the Middle East requires a strong, dispassionate intervention by the United States and United Nations. He calls the current course of events, "sheer madness."

Mr. Farrakhan said he has not yet discussed his planned visit with U.S. government officials.