Powell endorses Mideast monitors to keep peace
RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) – Secretary of State Colin Powell called Thursday for outside monitors to supervise a fragile Mideast cease-fire and help guide Israel and the Palestinians in preliminary peacemaking moves.
While the White House said it was not a U.S. policy reversal, the Bush administration had twice helped Israel scuttle attempts by the Palestinians to win U.N. Security Council approval for an observer force.
Powell, at a news conference with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, said, ”There will be a need for monitors and observers to see what is happening” between the two sides to prevent violence.
Arafat said the force should be drawn from the United Nations, the United States, the European Community and others.
In Washington, Ari Fleischer, the White House spokesman, said Powell had not endorsed ”what the Palestinians have said” and there was no change in U.S. policy. Arafat proposed a ”very specific international force,” Fleischer said, ”but that is not what the secretary said.”
Fleischer said Powell’s notion of observers goes back to an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians for an Israeli pullback on the West Bank. The agreement set up a three-way group, including the Central Intelligence Agency, to monitor security.
Powell conferred with Arafat in the Palestinian leader’s office for more than two hours before driving back to Jerusalem for a meeting with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
On his three-day trip to the region, Powell has cited as a hopeful sign a decline in violence, noting that there had been no deaths on either side since Saturday. But on Thursday, Palestinians shot and killed an Israeli woman in an ambush along a West Bank road, the Israeli army said.
Powell said he would like to see the two sides move to implementing confidence-building measures within weeks, though Sharon has insisted there be no violence for 10 days before moving forward.
”We have to do it promptly, but not so fast as to ignore the reality of the situation,” Powell said.
And to help the cease-fire hold through the process leading up to reopened peace talks, Powell said, ”There will be a need for monitors.”
Those monitors would go to points of friction between the Palestinians and Israelis and serve as go-betweens to resolve disputes, Powell said. He said he had not decided on the composition of such a force.
Israel objects to an observer force. A report by former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell declined to back the idea as well.
Sharon wants a period of complete quiet before the six-week cooling-off period proposed in the Mitchell report.
Powell appeared determined to accelerate the process, and said he was looking to Sharon to help set a timeline for implementing the Mitchell report, which both sides have endorsed. ”We cannot allow transition from one phase to another to be a stumbling block,” the secretary said
Yasser Abed Rabbo, the Palestinian information minister, said there should be confidence-building measures such as a halt to Israeli settlement building during the proposed cooling-off period.
Arafat, switching from Arabic to English, issued a scorching indictment of Jewish settlers on the West Bank and in Gaza.
”Our people are suffering from their crimes,” he said, adding that some settlers operate under the protection of the Israeli army.
Arafat underscored the commission’s call for a freeze on further construction in the settlements. Not one house can be added, he said.
Powell, who on his first trip here in February demanded Israel lift the siege of the Palestinians, said he was very mindful of the conditions people have been living under.
He urged the Israelis to make it easier for Palestinians to get to and from their jobs in Israel and thanked Arafat for a commitment to do everything possible to end the violence.
Before meeting with Arafat, Powell spent time with Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres.
Peres, who is on the dovish side of the Israeli political spectrum in contrast to the hard-line prime minister, urged Arafat to issue a clear order to halt violence and incitement to violence.
”I am aware of all the difficulties, but I don’t think the situation is hopeless,” Peres said. ”I think we can reach it,” he said of a Palestinian-Israeli accord.
Peres said it must be based on U.N. Security Council resolutions adopted after the Mideast wars of 1967 and 1973. These call for Israel to give up territory in exchange for peace with secure borders.
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