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Powell snubs Arafat

2002-07-13 13:27

Jerusalem - US Secretary of State Colin Powell declared Yasser Arafat persona non grata and shot down a dramatic appeal from the Palestinian leader for an end to Israel's three-week-old reoccupation of West Bank cities.

"We will take his points under consideration. I am not now dealing with Chairman Arafat. We are waiting for new leaders to emerge or a new leadership to be designated that we can work with," Powell, considered the White House's moderate voice, told Arab satellite news channel Al-Jazeera.

"We are anxious to work with other leaders within the Palestinian Authority."

Arafat was rebuffed as four more Palestinians were killed as a result of Israeli raids throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip to root out armed militants.

State Department spokesperson Richard Boucher said earlier Powell had read Arafat's letter - in which the frail 72-year-old leader spelled out reform measures he has made and suggested that further steps would not be possible unless Israel eased its military activity in the West Bank.

Since US President George W Bush called for Arafat's ouster in late June there has no contact between US officials and Arafat, although discussions with other members of the Palestinian leadership continue.

Successfully intercepting bombers

Israeli Defence Minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer said on Friday his troops had arrested 15 would-be Palestinian suicide bombers and intercepted three booby-trapped cars since they reoccupied most of the West Bank three weeks ago.

"We must stay there because there is no alternative to prevent one or two suicide bombers committing attacks in Israel every day or prevent terrorists from infiltrating in booby-trapped cars," Ben Eliezer told public radio.

Ben Eliezer will travel to Egypt on Monday for talks on the Middle East crisis with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Israeli officials said on Friday.

His trip comes as the Israeli public has given strong backing to his political rival, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, for the latest offensive.

But Palestinian militants showed no signs of lying down even as Israel dominated with its military muscle after 21 months of intifada that has claimed more than 2 000 lives, most of them Palestinians.

In the Gaza Strip's Nuseirat refugee camp, the radical Islamic movement Hamas rallied 5 000 supporters to remember six members who were killed in a helicopter strike about two weeks ago.

Journalist bled to death

Palestinian sources said Israeli soldiers raided on Friday a police station near Deir el-Balah in the Gaza Strip, killing a 25-year-old policeman and a 13-year-old boy in a nearby home.

A wounded Palestinian journalist also died earlier in the day.

Hospital officials said Imad Abu Zahra (35), a writer and photographer for a Palestinian publication, bled to death after an Israeli bullet severed a main artery in his thigh in the West Bank city of Jenin on Thursday. He was the second journalist to die this year in the intifada.

Colleagues said he was wearing a jacket with the word "Press" stamped on it in English. A photographer wounded in the same incident, Said Dahla, was in fair condition, hospital officials said.

Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres left Copenhagen on Friday after a two-day visit with Danish officials where he said much groundwork needed to be done before the peace process could resume.

Denmark currently holds the rotating presidency of the European Union (EU), which along with the other members of the diplomatic quartet on the Middle East, the United States, Russia and the United Nations is to meet next week.

Peres expressed support for a Danish initiative presented in Washington last week on behalf of the EU aimed at reviving the Middle East peace process.

Plan

The plan consists of creating working groups composed of senior officials from the diplomatic "quartet" to resolve problems such as financing, security and reforms needed for free and fair Palestinian elections.

The aim is to gradually restore confidence between Israelis and Palestinians, improve security and eventually hold an international peace conference.

Arab foreign ministers met in Cairo on Friday to draw up a joint stand on the conflict ahead of the quartet's meeting in New York.

A US official said the quartet members would further meet with the foreign ministers of Egypt and Jordan at a dinner on Tuesday night, rather than hold a full meeting that would also involve Saudi Arabia.

Arab League Secretary General Amr Mussa said during the meetings in Cairo that reforms in the Palestinian Authority are "on the way," but the Palestinians themselves must choose their representatives.

Speaking from the sidelines of the meeting, the Palestinian Authority's minister of international co-operation Nabil Shaath said the Arab states would push for the establishment of a Palestinian state within a two-year timetable.

Shaath said he believed that the proposals would be presented by Arab delegates meeting in New York this coming week with the international diplomatic quartet. - Sapa-AFP