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Bush: Conditions not right for Mideast peace

Meeting with Sharon follows new Israeli raid on Ramallah

President Bush responds to a reporter's question as Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon listens Monday.
President Bush responds to a reporter's question as Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon listens Monday.  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush said Monday after a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that conditions do not yet exist for peace in the Middle East "because no one has confidence in the emerging Palestinian government."

Sitting next to Bush at a White House photo opportunity, Sharon said Israel continues to seek a partner with whom it can negotiate a peace -- a reference to his belief that no deal is possible if Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is involved.

Israeli newspapers have reported that Sharon has resolved to expel Arafat but hasn't decided when to do so.

Asked if Arafat should be expelled, Bush said: "I don't think Mr. Arafat's the issue. The issue is the Palestinian people. I am dissatisfied that he has not led in such a way that the Palestinian people have confidence."

Bush and Sharon met Monday for the sixth time, just hours after Israeli forces made a new incursion into the West Bank town of Ramallah.

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Israeli infantry, accompanied by as many as 100 tanks and armored personnel carriers, entered Ramallah at about 4 a.m. (9 p.m. EDT Sunday) and took key positions. About 60 people were arrested, including 30 policemen who were held for a time and then released, the Israel Defense Forces said.

Israeli troops -- who ringed Arafat's compound with tanks and swept across the city making arrests -- discovered two cars they said were loaded with explosives and destined for terror attacks.

The IDF said the cars were filled with "explosives containing tens of kilograms of TATP-type [triacetone triperoxide] explosive materials and other explosive devices."

Israeli identity cards were found along with documents related to the Palestinian Authority, the IDF statement said.

Two Israeli soldiers were injured in fighting with Palestinian gunmen, the IDF said. One Palestinian was killed and three injured, according to the Palestine Red Crescent Society.

Israeli officers said they did not intend to enter Arafat's compound but wanted to keep Palestinians they were seeking from taking refuge inside.

At least a dozen tank shells were lobbed into a building used by Palestinian security, according to CNN reporters at the scene.

The IDF called the move a "short operation" aimed at arresting a list of Palestinian terrorist suspects and rooting out hidden "explosive laboratories, bomb factories and weapons caches."

Israeli troops also raided Arafat's Ramallah compound last week in response to a suicide car bombing that killed 17 Israelis on a bus in northern Israel. (Last week's raid on Arafat compound)

Israeli forces kept the compound under siege from March 29 to May 2, lifting it when six Palestinian militants were transferred to a Jericho jail. Israel wanted five of the six in the October killing of Israeli Tourism Minister Rehavam Ze'evi.

Arafat shakes up government

An Israeli soldier stands next to an armored personnel carrier holding a Palestinian prisoner Monday in the West Bank town of Ramallah.
An Israeli soldier stands next to an armored personnel carrier holding a Palestinian prisoner Monday in the West Bank town of Ramallah.  

Palestinians decried Monday's incursion, saying it undermined their efforts to implement changes in the Palestinian Authority announced Sunday. The Palestinian Authority said it postponed the first meeting of Arafat's reshuffled Cabinet because of the Israeli operation.

In the face of international pressure to make changes quickly, Arafat gave up his interior minister post Sunday and said presidential elections would take place by the end of the year or early 2003.

Arafat's announcement detailed a Cabinet overhaul that reduced the number of Palestinian ministers to 21 from 31. The move was "preparation for building the institution of a Palestinian state," chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat said.

Erakat said Arafat was expected to issue two decrees in the next few days -- one announcing a presidential election and the other local government elections.

The Palestinian leader appointed Abdel Razak Al-Yahya to replace him as interior minister. From that position, Arafat controlled 12 Palestinian security agencies.

Al-Yahya has long been involved in Palestinian security issues. He was an officer in the Syrian army during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war and was chairman of the security and borders committee in recent talks with Israel. (Full story)

Dore Gold, a senior adviser to Sharon, said a Cabinet shuffle would have little meaning if violence continues.

"The proof [of reforms] will be whether the situation on the ground will be fundamentally different tomorrow than it was yesterday," Gold said. (CNN Access)

Other developments

  • In additional West Bank operations, IDF forces arrested nine "wanted Palestinians" in sweeps through Beit-Awa, west of Hebron; Azun, east of Qalqilya; and Zeita, north of Tulkarem. Israeli security forces took the detainees in for questioning, according to the IDF.
  • Twenty-five Palestinians were taken to a hospital early Monday after an explosion rocked a house in Gaza's Jabaliya refugee camp, the Palestine Red Crescent Society said. Palestinian police and residents said it was likely that the explosion occurred while someone in the house was making bombs.
  • Israel released Hezbollah member Mohamad al-Barzawi on Monday as a goodwill gesture, a senior Israeli official said. Al-Barzawi had been held since he was captured during a Hezbollah attack on Israeli troops in the Chouf Mountains in 1987. Haim Avraham, the father of Benny Avraham, an Israeli soldier missing in Lebanon, said he believes Israel is attempting to demonstrate it is ready to negotiate a prisoner exchange with Hezbollah. Hezbollah guerrillas kidnapped three Israeli soldiers, including Avrahaim, in October 2000. Israeli Col. Elhanan Tannenbaum also is missing in Lebanon.
  • Palestinian officials announced Sunday that security forces had arrested two senior leaders of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Gaza. Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo said that Palestinian security forces picked up Abdullah Alshami. Other Palestinian security sources said Muhammed Al-Hindi also was arrested. The group claimed responsibility for last week's bombing in northern Israel.




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