Peres assures Arafat that Israel has no designs on his territory |

Peres assures Arafat that Israel has no designs on his territory


WASHINGTON (AP) – Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres assured Yasser Arafat on Sunday that Israel had no intention of remaining in areas of the West Bank under the control of the Palestinian Authority.

Peres, here for talks with Secretary of State Colin Powell and other Bush administration officials, said ”our interest is to help the Palestinian people gain their independence.”’

But Peres mixed his usual dovish stance with a call on Arafat to arrest the slayers of an Israeli Cabinet minister and extradite them to Israel for prosecution.

Peres said Arafat could never achieve his destiny if he did not act against terrorists. ”You cannot fight terror just with words,” Peres said in a speech to the American Jewish Congress.

The foreign minister said Arafat was capable of controlling terrorists. But, Peres said, the Palestinian leader is reluctant to act.

”It is not enough to say the right things,” Peres said.

Earlier, Powell said Israel had notified the United States it would withdraw from its recent incursions deep into the West Bank, a commitment Powell said was necessary for the prospect of a cease-fire with the Palestinians.

Powell, attending an Asian-Pacific economic summit in China, said he spoke earlier with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

”Hopefully the Israelis will be able to leave the territory that they have occupied recently,” Powell said on CNN’s ”Late Edition.”

Sharon ”said he did not plan to stay in those areas. And I hope they will finish what they’re doing, remove themselves as quickly as they can so that we can get back to a process that hopefully will lead to a cease-fire,” Powell said.

Also Sunday, Peres told U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan in New York that Israel does not intend to stay in the areas it entered, a spokesman for Israel’s U.N. Mission said.

An aide to Yasser Arafat said the Palestinian leader told Powell on Sunday that Washington must pressure Israel to withdraw.

”This issue will be a test (of) the willingness of the U.S. to keep its coalition, or to sacrifice the Arabs and Muslims to satisfy” Israel, said Arafat aide Nabil Abu Rdeneh.

He was referring to U.S. concerns that Israeli-Palestinian fighting could hinder efforts to maintain the support of moderate Arab nations for U.S. operations against Afghanistan’s Taliban government and terror suspect Osama bin Laden.

In the region, Israeli tanks moved deeper into West Bank in the widest operation against the Palestinians in years.

Three Palestinians were killed Sunday, and the Palestinian Health Ministry said a teen-age boy wounded in fighting last month died of his wounds.

The assault is in retaliation for the assassination of an Israeli Cabinet minister by a radical PLO faction.

”The United States position over a long period of time has been to point out that targeted assassinations of the kind that we have seen there is not in the best interest of trying to find a way to move forward with the peace process,” Powell said.

The assassination Wednesday of Israeli Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi ”got things all off course again. So I’m hoping we can bring the violence down.”

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