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Sharon: Arafat blocking peace

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon says Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has "reverted to terrorism."

Sharon also told American Jewish leaders in New York that Arafat was the main roadblock to peace in the Middle East.

Sharon left the United States early Thursday after telling Israel radio that Washington understands his tough position on Palestinian violence.

However, Palestinian ministers say the clashes that have killed more than 400 people -- the vast majority Palestinians -- have been spurred by Israel's occupation, by its blockade on Palestinian areas, which hamper movement and throttle the economy, and by Jewish settlements built on occupied land.

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Ariel Sharon: The main obstacle to peace is Arafat

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"The repeated accusation from Mr Sharon has become his agenda and this ultimately will close the door before the chances of dealing with the current situation in a responsible way," said Palestinian cabinet minister Nabil Amr.

Palestinian cabinet minister Ziyad Abu Zayyad told Army Radio Wednesday that whatever opinion Sharon had expressed at talks Tuesday with U.S. President George W. Bush, "the truth will come to light."

"And the truth is that the continuing occupation, the existence of the occupation and Israel's policies are responsible for the violence," he said.

The Palestinians want the United Nations to send an observer force to protect Palestinians. Sharon said during his meeting with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan that such a move could increase violence.

In an interview broadcast as he flew home, Sharon told Israel's Army Radio: "There is complete American agreement and understanding that we cannot surrender to violence and terrorism." There was no immediate comment on his remarks from the U.S..

The Israeli leader also said he would do what he could while preserving his country's security, but reiterated that peace negotiations could not resume until the violence has halted.

Economic difficulties

After Sharon's return, he was due to meet a U.S.-led mission investigating the six months of violence.

The team, led by former U.S. Senator George Mitchell, met Wednesday with Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres.

Peres said the team's mission was not to apportion blame, but to determine how the situation could be eased.

The team also met Arafat, who told them about the economic difficulties facing the Palestinians under Israel's restrictions.

In his first meeting with Annan since becoming prime minister, Sharon reiterated his opposition to a U.N. observer force in the West Bank or Gaza.

During the hour-long meeting, Annan raised the Palestinian proposal, while Sharon "indicated his, I think by now, well-known position that he would oppose any U.N. observers in Palestinian territory," said U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard.

According to a spokesman for the Israeli mission to the U.N., Sharon said terrorism would only increase with the presence of an observer force and that terrorists would "find shelter behind the observers."

The U.N. Security Council might vote by the end of the week on a draft resolution to create an unarmed observer force to help protect Palestinian civilians. The United States, a permanent member of the Security Council, is expected to veto the resolution.

In fresh violence on Wednesday night, a member of Arafat's special guard was killed by Israeli tank shells that the army said it fired in response to mortar fire on two Jewish settlements in Gaza.

Reuters contributed to this report.



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RELATED SITES:
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Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Palestinian National Authority

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