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Sharon to present peace plan to Bush next week

Planning begins for international Mideast conference

Palestinians look at a building in Nablus damaged by Israeli forces on Friday.
Palestinians look at a building in Nablus damaged by Israeli forces on Friday.  

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon met with his Cabinet on Friday to discuss his peace plan calling for buffer zones between Israelis and Palestinians.

Sharon will present that plan to U.S. President George Bush when the two meet next week in Washington.

In Ramallah, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was quoted by Israel Radio as saying he welcomes the idea of an international conference on peace in the Middle East, announced Thursday by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, who said that preparations were under way for it to take place this summer.

In other developments, the group Human Rights Watch in New York issued a report saying it found no evidence that Israeli troops committed a massacre of hundreds of Palestinians at the Jenin refugee camp, as the Palestinians contend.

But the group, which spent seven days in the camp, said an international investigation is needed because evidence suggests war crimes may have been committed by Israeli forces. (Full story)

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  • Orchestrating a common ground

Israel denies there was any massacre at the camp or that its soldiers committed any atrocities, but refused to cooperate with a now-abandoned U.N. investigatory mission. The Palestinian Red Crescent has said the bodies of 53 Palestinians have been recovered and buried but its claims haven't been independently corroborated.

Meanwhile, the Israeli army went into the West Bank city of Nablus, saying intelligence information indicated a suicide bombing was being planned. Two Palestinians and an Israeli officer were killed before Israeli troops withdrew.

Palestinian negotiators said they were blocked when they attempted to deliver food to Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

Israeli forces have besieged the church, insisting that Palestinian militants are holed up inside.

Four Palestinians, one of them on a stretcher and three others looking extremely weak, came out of the church. They were taken away in an Israeli military jeep.

Israel says the key issue in the standoff is the fate of up to 40 "senior terrorists," whom Israel wants to put on trial or send into exile. The Palestinians have rejected that proposal.

The prime minister's office said aides to Arafat, arrested on terrorism charges, told them during interrogations that Arafat approved of funding for Fatah operatives, knowing the money would be used to finance terrorist activities against Israeli civilians.

It also said it drew that conclusion after interrogating Marwan Barghouti, Nasser Aweis, Nasser Abu Hamid and Ahmed Barghouti -- all officials in Arafat's Fatah movement. All four are in Israeli custody.

There was no way to verify the Israeli assertions and no immediate Palestinian reaction to the Israeli claims.

Sharon says his plan would be expensive

Israel Radio quoted Arafat as saying he welcomed any international conference and the Palestinians are ready for talks on all issues. Palestinian sources were quoted as saying Arafat is calling for the creation of a Palestinian state based on the principle of land for peace, the recent Saudi initiative that calls for Israel to withdraw to its pre-1967 borders and the dismantling of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza.

Sharon said earlier in the week that he will present a peace plan to Bush that envisions a physical buffer between the West Bank and Israel. Sharon gave few details, but said the plan would be costly and he would be looking to the United States for financial help. (More on Sharon peace proposals)

In his remarks about the international summit on Mideast peace, Powell said: "We committed ourselves to the promotion of serious and accelerated negotiations toward a settlement. We discussed how best to begin to prepare for an international conference meeting this summer," Powell told a news conference.

Powell did not say where the conference would be held or what its agenda would be. The meeting would be sponsored by the so-called quartet of the United States, the United Nations, Russia and the European Union.




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