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Powell voices optimism on Israeli-Palestinian meeting

The IDF says the Israeli military destroyed a Palestinian-controlled outpost used to launch a morter attack on Monday.
The IDF says the Israeli military destroyed a Palestinian-controlled outpost used to launch a morter attack on Monday.  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell expressed guarded optimism there will be a meeting Tuesday in the Middle East between Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres.

"Where the meeting will take place, I don't know yet, that's the issue. But it'll be somewhere in the region, not Europe or in the Mediterranean," Powell told reporters traveling with him en route to Lima on Monday.

Powell said he hoped there would be a "new dimension" at this meeting and said there would be no intermediaries in order to "get between the two sides talking to each other directly, with specific ideas."

"Now both sides are keeping those specific ideas close to their chests, we have some sense of what's on the minds of both of them. And there is a sense also that the situation is becoming so bad that hopefully both sides will see it's in their interest to make this a successful first meeting," Powell said.

Israel and the Palestinians were at odds over where to hold the meeting between Arafat and Peres.

Chief Palestinian Negotiator Saeb Erakat said the Palestinians have proposed the meeting take place Tuesday in Cairo. He said the Israelis accept the time frame but not the location. The Israelis have proposed Erez Crossing on the Israel-Gaza border as the site, but Palestinians have objected to that location.

Israel Radio reported Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had rejected a call for Arafat to meet with Peres at Taba, Egypt, on Monday. A spokesman for Sharon said the meeting could go on if it was held at Erez Crossing on Tuesday.

Erakat said there have been 14 attempts in the past 11 months to arrange a cease-fire in the Al Aqsa Intifada, and if the meeting can be arranged, he said he did not want to raise expectations.

Erakat said Palestinians continue to believe Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories is the biggest obstacle to peace.

The goals for the meeting, sources told CNN, were modest, aimed at working out security contacts in an effort to stop further violence.

• Palestine Red Crescent Society
• Palestinian Authority
• Israel Defense Forces
• Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs
• United Nations

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