Palestinians Say No Powell
Meetings Without Arafat


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 Palestinian people.
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balloons" concerning Powell's visit, which he said he hoped would not be used, and said he hoped Israel would have withdrawn its forces from the West Bank by the time Powell arrived.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," he said.
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.

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