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US Official Urges Immediate Israeli Pullout - 2002-04-07

Secretary of State Colin Powell leaves for Israel Sunday in search of an end to violence between Israelis and the Palestinians. The Bush administration is strongly urging Israel to pull back its troops from Palestinian areas in advance of Mr. Powell's arrival.

U.S. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice says President Bush's message to Israel is very clear, that Israel must begin its troop withdrawal "now, without delay, not tomorrow."

"He believes the situation in the Middle East is now at a tipping point," she added. "We are at a crucial point, and he has said to our good friend Israel that it is time to begin withdrawal from the occupied areas, the areas that they have recently occupied, and it is time to reverse and to change the dynamics of this situation."

Interviewed Sunday on CBS television's Face the Nation, Ms. Rice said the United States understands that Israel's military mobilization cannot be undone in moments. But she also told interviewers Israel must not wait for the arrival in the region of Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Israel began its incursion into Palestinian areas almost two weeks ago, in response to a rash of Palestinian suicide bombings that have left dozens dead and injured.

Ms. Rice restated the Administration's call that all parties to the conflict must act to end the violence.

Appearing on another television program Sunday, NBC's Meet the Press, the chief Palestinian representative in the United States, Hassan Abdel Rahman, reacted to the U.S. communication to Israel: "Once they would go, I assure you that we are very eager to reach a cease-fire," he said.

An advisor to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Zalman Shoval, told interviewers the role of U.S. mediators is now going to be crucial.

"If America will make it very clear, in fact I think that's the mission of Secretary Powell," he said, "to tell the Palestinians, 'look, you're going to blow it. You're going to lose everything you have already achieved over the last 10 or 20 years. You won't have a Palestinian state unless you come to peace with Israel.' Unless they do that, the Palestinian people will continue to suffer."

Mr. Shoval made his comments on Meet the Press.