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Powell: Palestinians Have Moved Towards Peace But More Work Needed

Secretary of State Colin Powell says the new Palestinian government must move decisively to dismantle terrorist groups so peace efforts can move ahead. Mr. Powell also urged Israel to take measures to ease the plight of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Mr. Powell came to the region to promote the so-called road map to peace. On his first stop, in Jerusalem, he urged both Israel and the Palestinians to seize the opportunity by implementing practical steps on the ground.

He welcomed the appointment of new Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas. He said the Palestinians had taken steps toward peace and reforms, but Mr. Powell said more is needed. "We must also see rapid, decisive action by the Palestinians to disarm and dismantle the terrorist infrastructure. Without such action, our best efforts will fail," Mr. Powell said.

Mr. Powell said he would discuss this issue with Prime Minister Abbas, whom he is meeting in the West Bank town of Jericho.

Mr. Powell also said that progress toward peace depends on what Israel does. "Prime Minister Sharon and I spoke today about a number of specific actions Israel can take immediately to improve the situation in the West Bank and Gaza, and help build an environment for peacemaking," he said.

Mr. Sharon did not outline any specific steps Israel would take. But one of his advisers told some journalists after the news conference that Israel has already lifted the closure of the Palestinian territories. He said Israel would also ease internal travel restrictions on Palestinians within the territories, grant more permits for Palestinians to return to work in Israel, release some Palestinian prisoners and ease Palestinian fishing rights off the Gaza coast.

Mr. Sharon repeated many of his long-standing positions. He said Israel was ready for peace, and would make painful concessions when the time comes during formal negotiations. He also repeated Israel's stand that it is the Palestinians' responsibility to stop terrorism.

"What is needed now are actions that should be taken against the terrorist organizations, like Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front, the Democratic Front and all the others and those security organizations that are involved in terror and use terror and cooperate with other terrorist organizations," Mr. Sharon said.

Dismantling some of these organizations poses a considerable challenge to the Abbas government. Many of these militant groups have gained strength during the past two and a-half years of the Palestinian uprising, the Intifada, and the militants are often seen as heroes by young Palestinians.

Mr. Powell is urging both Israelis and Palestinians to at least begin implementing the so-called road map to Middle East peace and an independent Palestinian state, even if they do so with only small steps.