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Bush Welcomes Israel's Decision on Ramallah - 2002-04-28

Israel and the Palestinians have endorsed President Bush's plan to end the siege of Ramallah. Israeli forces will move out of the West Bank city, and international monitors will come in to guard six Palestinians wanted by Israel who are now inside Yasser Arafat's headquarters. The president says it is a hopeful development in the quest for peace.

It was a breakthrough at a time of tension, when hope was running thin.

First the Israelis and then the Palestinians endorsed Mr. Bush's proposal to end the stand-off in Ramallah. The president, who has been involved in days of quiet diplomacy at his Texas ranch, welcomed the move. Mr. Bush said, "I have called on all parties to step up their responsibilities and today's developments are a positive sign that they are doing so."

He made clear this is just one step, and much hard work remains. But he seemed pleased - and perhaps relieved - that the Ramallah stand-off had been resolved.

Israeli forces moved into Ramallah on March 29 - the first day of their incursion into the West Bank. They took up positions around the Palestinian Authority headquarters, confining Yasser Arafat to the compound.

The Israelis called on the Palestinian leadership to turn over six men inside the headquarters wanted by Israel in connection with the murder of a cabinet minister and an alleged effort to smuggle arms from Iran. Four were convicted by a Palestinian court of murder, but that was not enough for the Israelis.

Under the Bush plan, monitors from the United States and Britain will guard the prisoners who are expected to be held in a Palestinian prison. Israeli forces will move out of Ramallah and Yasser Arafat will be free to travel.

President Bush said Mr. Arafat must perform and provide real leadership. "Chairman Arafat should now seize this opportunity to act decisively in word and in deed against terror directed at Israeli citizens," he said.

The president went on to stress that while Yasser Arafat has a responsibility to fight terror, the world has a responsibility to ease the humanitarian plight of the Palestinian people. President Bush said, "My heart grieves for people who have no hope. And there are a lot of people who have no hope in the Middle East. There are some Palestinians, a lot of Palestinians, who wonder whether or not life is worth living.

He said the world at large must show the Palestinians that there is a brighter future ahead, while understanding Israeli security concerns.

President Bush noted that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will visit the White House in a week or two. Just a few days ago, the president welcomed Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Abdullah to his Texas ranch. Mr. Bush told reporters he wants to talk to anyone who has "a vision for peace."