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Bush: Cheney-Arafat meeting depends on crackdown

Bush speaks to reporters Saturday during a news conference at Lima's Government Palace.  

LIMA, Peru (CNN) -- Vice President Dick Cheney will meet with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat "if and when Arafat performs" in clamping down on terrorism, President Bush said Saturday.

"We have made it very clear to Mr. Arafat that he is not doing all he can do to fight off terror. I can't be any more clear than that," Bush said during a news conference with Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo.

The United States has held out the prospect of a meeting between Arafat and Cheney, but Bush administration officials have said conditions for such a meeting have not been met. Such a meeting would be the highest-level contact between Arafat and the current administration.

White House officials said they would decide by Sunday night whether Arafat has met the conditions necessary for a meeting with Cheney before next week's Arab League summit in Lebanon.

The decision will fall largely on Bush's special Mideast envoy, retired Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni, who is trying to broker a cease-fire in the 18-month-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"Vice President Cheney said, depending upon the Zinni mission and General Zinni's recommendation, he might go back if and when Arafat performs," Bush told reporters in Lima.

Cheney, who recently returned from a tour of the Middle East, has said he would return to the region and meet with Arafat if he believes the Palestinian leader was committed to implementing a cease-fire proposal put forth by CIA Director George Tenet. The Tenet proposal calls for a cease-fire, a cooling-off period and a resumption of negotiations. (Tenet plan)

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Israeli and Palestinian security officials were to meet again Sunday following a series of talks with Zinni this week.

But continued Palestinian attacks on Israeli civilians have led U.S. officials to question Arafat's commitment to a cease-fire. Suicide bombings in northern Israel and downtown Jerusalem have killed 10 Israelis and wounded dozens since Wednesday.

And a bipartisan group of 52 senators has called on Bush to block a Cheney-Arafat meeting.

"Until Mr. Arafat and the Palestinian Authority demonstrate their commitment to end the violence, we would urge that the vice president reconsider his offer to meet with Mr. Arafat," the senators stated in a Thursday letter.

The Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the military wing of Arafat's Fatah movement, claimed responsibility for Thursday's bombing in Jerusalem and a Friday blast that wounded an Israeli army officer in the West Bank.

Islamic Jihad -- a militant group dedicated to the creation of an Islamic Palestinian state and the destruction of Israel -- claimed responsibility for the third attack, which killed seven people on a bus in northern Israel on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Israeli forces killed seven Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza late Friday and Saturday, Israeli and Palestinian sources said. Palestinian security sources said the dead included a 22-year-old man and a 4-year-old girl who died during an Israeli incursion into Rafah, in Gaza.

The Israeli military said its forces were searching for underground tunnels and smuggled arms in Israeli-controlled territory and returned fire when fired upon.

Israel Defense Forces said its troops killed three Palestinians at a Gaza checkpoint, including a 21-year-old Islamic Jihad activist they said was armed.

Palestinian sources blamed the Israeli army for killing a 20-year-old Palestinian shepherd in Nablus, then dumping his body in a remote area overnight. The IDF said its forces shot and killed a suspicious Palestinian attempting to plant a bomb.




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