Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is condemning all terror attacks against Israeli civilians and also saying he is ready to negotiate with Israel. He made the remarks in a speech to the Palestinian parliament in Ramallah Monday.

Arafat Speaking in Arabic

But Mr. Arafat stopped short of calling for recognition of Israel and a ban on suicide bombings, which an advance copy of his speech had indicated he would do.

The Palestinian leader also said he is willing to give up his executive powers. But western reporters said that remark was made in jest, and appeared to be made to mock his critics.

It was the first meeting of the Palestinian Legislative Council in six months, convened by lawmakers to prepare for elections Mr. Arafat said will take place in January.

In Jerusalem, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said he hoped the Palestinians? Monday meeting would result in positive changes.

?There are many voices of soberness, and a call to return to the negotiations. Now we have to see and wait if those will bear real fruit. But debate itself is a good sign.?

In Washington, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the U.S. welcomes Mr. Arafat?s condemnation of violence and terror, but pointed out he has made similar remarks before.

"So, our view remains that we need to work towards Palestinian civil and security reforms so the Palestinian people can have leaders in positions of authority who take responsibility for transformation of Palestinian institutions."

The Palestinian Legislative Council had planned to have all of its nearly 90 members in Ramallah for the Monday session. But Israel banned at least 12 of the lawmakers from traveling to the West Bank from Gaza, citing security concerns. They were able to participate in the meeting, from Gaza, through a video link.