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Powell fails to secure cease-fire

©Washington Post
April 17, 2002

JERUSALEM -- Secretary of State Colin Powell plans to end his Middle East mission today without a cease-fire between Israelis and Palestinians and with Israeli troops still occupying most West Bank cities despite President Bush's calls for withdrawal without delay, the Washington Post reported Tuesday, citing U.S. officials whom it did not identify.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has promised to pull back within a week from Nablus and Jenin, two of the major Palestinian towns occupied in a 19-day-old offensive against what the Israeli leader described as the Palestinians' terrorist infrastructure. That will leave Israeli forces in Bethlehem and Ramallah, two of the West Bank's other major cities, with no withdrawal in sight.

On Tuesday, Israeli tanks and armored personnel carriers moved into the Jerusalem suburbs of Abu Dis, Izzariyeh and Sawahra As-Sharkiyeh before dawn, with commanders issuing a curfew that trapped tens of thousands of residents in their homes. Israeli officials said the invasions were based on intelligence reports that attacks against Israel were being planned within two of the communities as Israel prepared to celebrate its Independence Day today.

Israeli forces also went back into the West Bank city of Tulkarm, which they had captured and then evacuated a week ago. After seeking to arrest several Palestinians, the forces withdrew again.

Before ending his six-day visit to Jerusalem, Powell was scheduled to hold a second round of talks with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat today in Ramallah and make a statement outlining the security, political and economic steps that the Bush administration believes are needed.

Powell is looking for the Palestinians to commit themselves to specific steps for cracking down on militant groups involved in attacking Israelis, according to U.S. and Palestinian officials cited by the Washington Post. These measures could be timed to run parallel with Israeli withdrawals.

Powell said he was not seeking a formal cease-fire but practical steps to curb violence. "The specific term cease-fire has not quite the same significance as what actually happens," he said.

Powell has reportedly emphasized that Arafat's ability to move against militants has been seriously damaged by the invasion of West Bank cities and refugee camps. According to the Post, Israeli and Palestinian officials said CIA director George Tenet is expected to visit the region shortly to assess the condition of the Palestinian security forces and recommend how to rebuild them.

Although Powell and other U.S. officials had said on the eve of his trip to the region that Palestinian political concerns needed to be addressed quickly, it remained unclear whether he will make progress on this front. The U.S. delegation has been speaking with Arab and Israeli officials about convening a peace conference, but details remain sketchy.

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