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Arafat condemns attacks, calls Israel partner in peace

Israeli foreign minister says comments provide 'element of interest'

In a New York Times op-ed piece, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat said Israel and the Palestinians are natural
In a New York Times op-ed piece, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat said Israel and the Palestinians are natural "partners in peace."  

RAMALLAH, West Bank (CNN) -- Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat on Sunday condemned terror attacks against Israeli civilians and called for peace talks "as partners, not as subjects" with the Jewish state.

In a column published on the op-ed page of Sunday's New York Times, Arafat detailed what he calls "the Palestinian vision of peace." The piece was published a day after Palestinian sources confirmed a meeting last week between Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and three senior Palestinian officials.

Arafat said such a vision is "an independent and viable Palestinian state on the territories occupied by Israel in 1967, living as an equal neighbor alongside Israel with peace and security for both the Israeli and Palestinian peoples."

Arafat, who asserted that the Palestinians seek a "fair and just solution" to the refugee issue, said: "We understand Israel's demographic concerns and understand that the right of return of Palestinian refugees ... must be implemented in a way that takes into account such concerns."

Column brings mixed reaction

Despite conciliatory letter by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in The New York Times, doubts still exist in Israel and Washington about his ability to lead. CNN's Kelly Wallace reports (February 3)

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Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said Arafat's column provided an "element of interest" for Israel.

He said Arafat's comment calling for an understanding of Israel's demographic concerns under any peace agreement is significant. Peres reiterated the Israeli position that any agreement involving Palestinian refugees must not threaten the Jewish character and population of Israel.

"We shall not agree to convert Israel into a Palestinian state by changing the Jewish majority and having a Palestinian majority," Peres said Sunday. He said Arafat's article laid out the Palestinian positions.

"He didn't depart from his final positions. He must remember that a negotiation doesn't mean we are going to meet 100 percent of what he wants as we don't expect the Palestinians to meet 100 percent of what we want," Peres said. "This is a declaration about the Palestinian 100 percent -- what we need is a declaration about the middle, between the two positions."

Peres called for peace talks, which Arafat also did in the article. Borders, refugees, Jerusalem and settlements are the four main issues both sides need to discuss, Peres said.

"None of us can really escape peace. ... We have to sit and talk," he said.

A spokesman for Sharon called for Arafat to take action to stop terrorism.

"You don't make peace by writing a [public relations] article in the op-ed segment of The New York Times," said Ranaan Gissin. "You make peace by stopping terrorism. And a [public relations] campaign is no substitute for stopping terrorism, and Arafat for the past 16 months has not stopped the campaign of terrorists against our innocent civilians."

'Arafat has to act,' Powell says

Secretary of State Colin Powell, appearing Sunday on CBS' "Face the Nation" news show, said he was pleased that Arafat condemned terrorism. "But now what we need now is action against terrorists," Powell said.

"Chairman Arafat has to act. He has to do a lot more to get the violence under control, to persuade the Palestinian people, all of these Palestinian organizations, that they are destroying the vision of a Palestinian state by violent acts," Powell said.

U.S. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice reacted to the column by saying that Arafat has not done enough to fight terror.

"What will ultimately make the Palestinian people's life better, what will ultimately give them the chance of their national aspiration for a state ... is to get the peace process moving again, and right now Chairman Arafat holds the key to that," Rice said on CNN's "Late Edition."

Meanwhile, the Israeli Defense Forces said they launched a missile Sunday on a Palestinian steel mill in Jabalia in northern Gaza in response to Palestinian mortar shelling on Gaza over the weekend.

The factory was involved in the making of mortar shells, the IDF said. No comment was immediately available from the Palestinians.

Saudi Arabia's former chief of intelligence, Prince Turki al-Faisal, predicted Sunday that there will be "a lot more bloodshed" between Israelis and Palestinians in the coming months, and the United States must remain involved in the peacemaking efforts.

"Without U.S. intervention and without U.S. participation in the full and total commitment to peace in the Middle East, there is not going to be peace," he told several hundred people at his alma mater, Georgetown University.

Arafat: Palestinians 'ready to end the conflict'

Arafat said groups conducting attacks against Israeli civilians "do not represent the Palestinian people or their legitimate aspirations for freedom. They are terrorist organizations, and I am determined to put an end to their activities."

Arafat said Israel and the Palestinians are natural "partners in peace."

"Israel's peace partner is, and always has been, the Palestinian people. Peace is not a signed agreement between individuals -- it is reconciliation between peoples," he said.

Palestinians are "ready to end the conflict" between Israelis and Palestinians that has escalated over the last 16 months and has been a constant in the region since Israel came into existence in the late 1940s, Arafat said.

"We are ready to sit down now with any Israeli leader, regardless of his history, to negotiate freedom for the Palestinians, a complete end of the occupation, security for Israel and creative solutions to the plight of the refugees while respecting Israel's demographic concerns," Arafat said.

Arafat said the Palestinians will only meet with Israel "as equals, not as supplicants; as partners, not as subjects; as seekers of a just and peaceful solution, not as a defeated nation grateful for whatever scraps are thrown our way."

He also addressed criticism of his leadership. "The personal attacks on me currently in vogue may be highly effective in giving Israelis an excuse to ignore their own role in creating the current situation," he said.

Many believe Sharon "is fanning the flames of unrest in an effort to delay indefinitely a return to negotiations," Arafat said

Israel has confined Arafat to Ramallah for two months, and the United States has demanded that the Palestinian leader do more to crack down on militants.

As for last week's meeting between the Palestinians and Sharon, Palestinian sources said that the Israeli leader told them he was serious and willing to compromise on certain issues.

The Israeli government would not comment on the meeting, first reported Friday by Israel Radio. But a government statement said that all of Sharon's contacts with Palestinians are meant to achieve one end -- stopping violence and terror -- and that no political progress will be made in the region until the Palestinians take certain steps to stop violence.

Israeli tanks search southern Gaza area

Meanwhile, Israeli security sources Sunday confirmed Israeli tanks entered a Palestinian-controlled area Saturday, saying the armed vehicles were used as cover for Israeli forces searching for Palestinian gunmen.

In a statement, Israel Defense Forces said four armed gunmen were in the area around Gush Katif, a block of Jewish settlements between Rafah and Khan Yunis in southern Gaza. The IDF said army forces opened fire toward the gunmen, who then ran away.

Soldiers pursued the gunmen and began searches in the area.

The Israeli army said all its forces had left the Palestinian-controlled area.

Palestinian security sources said Saturday that five Israeli army tanks and a bulldozer had entered the area.




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