Sharon accuses Arafat group of terrorism; Powell backs Israel |

Sharon accuses Arafat group of terrorism; Powell backs Israel

WASHINGTON (AP) – Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon drew the Bush administration’s support Monday for his go-slow diplomacy and denounced Yasser Arafat’s elite guard for ”terror activities.”

Sharon’s two-day visit was marred even before he arrived by new attacks on Israeli Jews. Speaking for Sharon in Jerusalem, a spokesman accused Arafat’s Palestinian Authority of ”deepening its involvement in incitement of violence and terror” and of ”closing ranks with militant fundamentalists.”

Secretary of State Colin Powell renewed a pledge to stand by Israel and criticized Arab governments for withdrawing their ambassadors from Tel Aviv. ”These states should be voices of moderation,” Powell said in a speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the leading pro-Israel lobby.

Powell also was sympathetic to the Palestinians. Their economy, he said, ”is in a shambles, with unemployment skyrocketing and growth absent” as a result of an Israeli economic blockade.

He said the Bush administration was committed to the U.N. formula that Israel should yield land for peace, and White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said President Bush ”would like to see an easing of economic pressure” by Israel, along with Palestinian steps to end the violence.

The Palestinian Authority’s spokesman in the United States, Hassan Abdel Rahman, would not comment the remarks by Sharon’s spokesman without seeing a full statement but appealed to the Bush administration to be an honest broker in the Middle East.

”We are hopeful that the U.S. administration will not endorse Mr. Sharon’s plan to pacify ‘a Palestinian territory,”’ Abdel Rahman told The Associated Press.

He accused Sharon of trying to blame the current problems in the Middle East solely on the Palestinians and get the world to ”overlook the atrocities and the war crimes that are committed by the Israel army and the Israeli government in the Palestinian territories.”

”We do not believe that this is an issue of public relations, like Sharon and his supporters in the United States are trying to make of this conflict,” Abdel Rahman said.

Sharon met at the Pentagon for about an hour with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. They discussed the new Israeli government’s ”priorities and plan for making progress toward ending the ongoing violence” in the region and achieving peace, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said.

They also discussed U.S.-Israeli defense cooperation and regional security threats, Whitman said.

Sharon conferred long-distance with his senior advisers on ”steps that will be taken” to end the renewed bloodshed that took the life of a father of six in a drive-by shooting and a second Israeli man whose body was found near the northern border. Additionally, 60 automatic rifles were stolen from a kibbutz.

Against the bloody backdrop, Sharon accused Arafat’s elite guard, Force 17, of ”terror activities” and said Fatah, a core group of Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization, was increasing its cooperation with fundamentalist terror organizations

Abdel Rahman, the Washington Palestinian representative, said he believes both Bush and Powell have enough information from U.N. human rights agents to ”make a serious indictment of Israel’s atrocities in the Palestinian territory.”

”We are hopeful they will really question Sharon’s militarization of the solution that he is offering to the West Bank and Gaza to further imposition of closure, starvation, collective punishment,” he said. Those are the atrocities, he said, ”not the random acts of individual violence carried on by extremist Palestinians.”

In his speech, Powell reiterated a pledge he made 10 years ago as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff: ”Let there be no question about our commitment to Israel. Let there be no question that America will stand by Israel.”

Echoing Sharon’s view, Powell said, ”First and foremost, the violence that has gripped the region for six months must stop.” This statement appeared to find backing for the new prime minister, who has put peacemaking on hold while Palestinian violence continues.

In what appeared to be a message to Arafat, Powell said, ”Leaders have the responsibility to denounce violence, strip it of its legitimacy, stop it. Violence is a dead end.”

Sharon’s predecessor, Ehud Barak, and the Clinton administration followed a different course toward a settlement with the Palestinians. Their efforts at conciliation were undeterred by violent militants they called ”enemies of peace.”

Reflecting Sharon’s offer of limited agreements, in sharp contrast to the push by Barak and former President Clinton to an overall settlement, Powell said the goal in peacemaking could be transitional, ”partial or whole.”

Powell, who interspersed a few words of Yiddish he learned growing up in the South Bronx, said to a standing ovation the Bush administration would try to make sure Israel maintained a military edge over its Arab neighbors.

”The United States has a vital interest in the security of Israel,” Powell said.

Bush telephoned King Abdullah of Jordan on Monday for a 10-minute discussion of the Middle East situation, spokesman Fleischer said.

On the Net: Powell’s speech:

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