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Powell-Sharon Talks:  No Timeframe Yet for Isaeli West Bank  Withdrawal - 2002-04-12

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon says the Jewish state is waging a war against terrorism, which he hopes will come to a conclusion very soon. Sharon, who held talks with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, has given no timetable for withdrawing Israeli troops from the West Bank.

Speaking during a joint press conference with Secretary Powell, Mr. Sharon told reporters through a translator that Israel hopes to end its two-week military operation in Palestinian-ruled areas in the West Bank soon.

"Israel is waging a war against the infrastructure of Palestinian terrorism and Israel hopes to conclude this war very soon," he said. "Terror can not coexist with peace. The suicide bombers' terrorism represents a danger for Israel and for the entire free world."

Secretary Powell indicated after the talks that no agreement has yet been reached with Mr. Sharon on how long Israeli military raids in the West Bank will last.

"With respect to specific discussions on timetables and the like we shared and exchanged views and I look forward to further exchanges of views in the next couple of days, but don't have a specific answer on timing," he said.

Secretary Powell says he hopes Israel and the Palestinians can get back on a track that will lead to a political settlement.

Mr. Powell is expected to meet with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat Saturday in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

Secretary Powell is hoping to mediate a cease-fire to end more than 18 months of Israeli-Palestinian violence.

Hours earlier the Israeli army said its soldiers killed or wounded hundreds of Palestinians during this week's fighting in the Jenin refugee camp. The Palestinians have alleged that Israeli soldiers massacred people in the camp, a charge vehemently denied by Israel.

Also Friday, a Palestinian gunman opened fire at the Erez crossing from Gaza into Israel, killing an Israeli border policeman and a Palestinian. Israeli security forces shot and killed the gunman.

Overnight, Israeli forces raided the village of Khalil, near Nablus, arresting more than 20 Palestinians.

The Israeli military says more than 4,000 Palestinians have been detained in the last two weeks.

Israel continues to re-occupy major Palestinian population centers in the West Bank after launching the operation late last month in response to a series of suicide bombings that killed dozens of Israelis.