- JERUSALEM (Reuters) - The
top Palestinian negotiator said on Saturday Palestinian officials would
not meet Secretary of State Colin Powell during his visit next week if
he refused to meet Palestinian President Yasser Arafat.
- "If Powell chooses not to meet Arafat, he will not
meet any Palestinian official," senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb
Erekat told Reuters, adding Arafat was the elected representative of the
- Powell is to set off on a Middle East tour on Sunday
as part of U.S. efforts to arrange a cease-fire between Israelis and Palestinians
after 18 months of fighting that has surged in the past week.
- White House spokesman Ari Fleischer told reporters on
Friday Powell had no plans "at this moment" to meet Arafat. Powell
said there were no plans at present but that did not mean there would no
such plans "in due course."
- Erekat said he was responding to "trial balloons"
concerning Powell's visit, which he said he hoped would not be used, and
said he hoped Israel would have withdrawn its forces from the West Bank
by the time Powell arrived.
- "I hope that by the time Powell gets here, we will
not have the Israeli forces in our towns and we will not have the closures,"
- Powell urged Israel on Friday to withdraw its forces
from Palestinian areas "without delay," after a more than week-long
offensive in the West Bank that Israel says is aimed at preventing more
Palestinian suicide attacks.
- Palestinians say the attacks are seeking to oust or kill
Arafat and destroy the Palestinian Authority.
- Israel says it has no intention of harming Arafat, who
has been besieged for the past week by Israeli forces at his Ramallah headquarters.
- Erekat voiced concerns for Arafat's safety after saying
communications, which had included wireless contacts, had been lost early
on Saturday with the president.
- "I really worry about President Yasser Arafat's
life and safety," he said, adding the electricity supply to his compound
had been cut.