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Powell, Arafat to meet in West Bank

Arafat condemns 'all kinds' of terror

Yasser Arafat
Arafat will meet with Powell at his Ramallah compound.  

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Secretary of State Colin Powell prepared to meet with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat on Sunday after Arafat issued a statement condemning terrorism of "all kinds."

Arafat's statement condemned both Palestinian suicide bombings and the killings of Palestinian civilians during the Israeli offensive in the West Bank. Its issuance cleared the way for a meeting with Powell, who had postponed talks with Arafat after a suicide bomber killed six people Friday in Jerusalem.

"We strongly condemn violent operations that target Israeli civilians, especially the last operation in Jerusalem," the statement said. "We also strongly condemn the massacre and the killing Israel occupation forces have, and are still, committing against Palestinian civilians and refugees in the city of Nablus and the Jenin refugee camp and the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem and other Palestinian territories over the past two weeks."

The statement was issued in Arabic to reporters in Ramallah. The United States has been demanding Arafat renounce terrorist acts as a starting point toward talks aimed at a cease-fire. (Read statement)

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At a joint news conference with Prime Minister Tony Blair on April 6, President Bush said, "He needs to speak clearly, in Arabic, to the people of that region and condemn terrorist activities. At the very minimum, he ought to say something."

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat said the Arafat-Powell meeting was set for 11 a.m. (4 a.m. EDT) at Arafat's headquarters in Ramallah, where Israeli troops have detained him for two weeks.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Powell "will work with Chairman Arafat and the Palestinian leadership to show leadership and to help make these statements a reality with effective action to bring an end to terror and violence and an early resumption of a political process."

The developments came as Israeli forces moved into two more West Bank villages outside Jenin, the scene of some of the heaviest fighting in their two-week-old incursion. Military officials said 29 Israeli troops have been killed since the offensive began March 29; 13 of whom were killed in a single ambush last week in Jenin.

The Israel Defense Forces have said at least 100 Palestinian gunmen were killed at Jenin and acknowledged that "hundreds" of Palestinians were either killed or injured. Erakat has charged that more than 500 Palestinians were killed in the Jenin camp, an estimate Israel dismisses as propaganda.

Boucher said the Palestinian statement "contains a number of interesting and positive elements," including "a reaffirmation of the Palestinian commitment to a negotiated peace." But Israeli officials greeted Saturday's condemnation with skepticism.

"We are witnessing the continued pattern of committing Palestinian terror and then sending some obscure press releases afterwards," said Danny Ayalon, and adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. "Palestinian words are meaningless without concrete action to stop terrorism."

Powell, who met with Sharon on Friday, is trying to bring about a political settlement to the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Sharon and Powell failed to agree on when Israel should end its West Bank military operations that have included sealing off Palestinian towns in an attempt to destroy what it calls "the Palestinian terrorist infrastructure."

In Washington, a senior administration official said Bush was now looking to see that Arafat matches his statement with actions. Bush wants Arafat to crack down on terror "in word and in deed," the aide said.

Bush has made clear he wanted Arafat to speak out publicly against terror. After Friday's bombing in Jerusalem, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said "That is terrorism, this is murder and that Yasser Arafat needs to renounce it and renounce it soon." (Images from the blast)

Latest developments

  • The Israeli Supreme Court said Saturday it will hear arguments on the burial of Palestinian fighters and civilians in the Jenin refugee camp Sunday. The court issued an injunction Friday night blocking burials after two Israeli Arab Knesset members and two human rights groups filed a petition. In filings before the court, the Israeli attorney general's office said no bodies had been buried and none would be until Sunday. (Full story)
  • Israeli forces and tanks on Saturday moved into the West Bank villages of Burqeen and Arabeh on the outskirts of Jenin, the scene of some of the fiercest fighting. Curfews were imposed in both areas, sources inside the villages said. The Israeli military had no comment on either incursion.
  • Israeli troops entered the home of Palestinian Health Minister Hassan Asfour Sunday afternoon and began searching it, said Palestinians who were nearby. They said they saw Israel Defense Forces troops escort Asfour from his house and take him away. Also, Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat said Israeli bulldozers were flattening the Palestinian Health Ministry. The IDF said it was checking the report.
  • Powell met Saturday with the "Jerusalem Patriarchs," the leaders of the Palestinian Christian community, in Jerusalem to discuss the humanitarian conditions of Palestinian Christians in areas such as Bethlehem. He also met with representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency "to discuss the severe humanitarian problems in the Palestinian areas, particularly in Jenin, and to express our deep concerns," according to State Department spokesman Richard Boucher. "He will continue to raise our concerns on these issues with the Israeli government," Boucher said. (Full story)




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