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Powell to Press Arafat on Palestinian Extremists - 2002-04-13

Secretary of State Colin Powell goes to Ramallah Sunday to meet besieged Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. The meeting was put off from Saturday in the wake of Friday's suicide bombing in Jerusalem, but the U.S. side decided to go ahead with the session after Mr. Arafat condemned the Jerusalem attack and other acts of terror.

The meeting in a battered Ramallah compound largely occupied by Israeli troops will be the most dramatic of the Powell mission, which is aimed at ending Israeli-Palestinian fighting and putting the sides on a path back toward peace negotiations.

The decision to go ahead with the meeting, a day late, came after a careful U.S. analysis of a written statement in the name of Mr. Arafat and the Palestinian leadership Saturday, condemning violent acts that target civilians including the latest Jerusalem bombing.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher says the Arafat document has a number of positive elements, including its renunciation of terrorist acts and support for both the U.S. brokered Tenet cease-fire plan and the Mitchell report for restoring the regional peace process.

But he noted that the Palestinian leader has made similar statements with regard to terrorism in the past and said the latest commitment must now be backed up by action on the ground.

"You've heard us express our disappointment with statements that were made that weren't fulfilled," said Mr. Boucher. "And that's why its important to us that with this as a start, you might say, we can go down and work with Chairman Arafat to try to build on this to try to accomplish what we want to accomplish, which is to get an effective action to bring terror and violence to an end."

Secretary Powell is pressing Israel for a timetable for an end to its military drive in the West Bank, which the Arafat statement alleges has included "massacres" of Palestinians by Israeli troops.

Israel denies misconduct by its soldiers and also dismissed Saturday's statement from Gaza as part of a "double game" being played by Mr. Arafat.

Palestinian officials said Mr. Arafat had been reluctant to issue the statement without some attention by Mr. Powell to humanitarian problems of Palestinians in areas of the West Bank occupied by Israel over the last two weeks.

Although U.S. officials denied any direct connection, Mr. Powell did meet with international relief officials Saturday and later issued a statement expressing "deep concern" about the situation in the Palestinian towns, especially Jenin.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Richard Cook, the West Bank director of the U.N. Palestinian refugee agency UNWRA, expressed deep concern about conditions in the Jenin refugee camp, which was the scene of bitter fighting and has been sealed off by Israeli troops for several days:

"We have appealed to the Israeli defense forces to allow us into the camp to evacuate the wounded, to evacuate the dead bodies," he said. "I described to the secretary of state the conditions that I believe are now prevailing in the camp. The camp has been without water, without electricity for several days. We do know there are dead bodies, we just don't know how many. There are injured people. There has been destruction of property. There has been a heavy attack on the camp and the conditions in the camp now must be appalling."

U.S. officials say Secretary Powell will likely meet Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for a second time late Sunday after he sees Mr. Arafat and then assess the utility of further rounds of meetings with the sides. Powell aides say the peace mission, which began in Morocco last Monday, is open ended and they do not exclude the possibility other stops in the region in the coming week.