- JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Palestinian
leader Yasser Arafat expressed "strong condemnation" of terrorism
on Saturday in an apparent attempt to satisfy U.S. demands and reinstate
plans to meet Secretary of State Colin Powell.
- Powell's mission to end 18 months of violence was plunged
into disarray by a Palestinian suicide attack that killed six people in
Jerusalem's main market on Friday, which prompted him to call off talks
with Arafat set for Saturday.
- White House and the State Department officials had demanded
that Arafat denounce the bombing in no uncertain terms, even as Israeli
tanks swept into half a dozen West Bank towns on Saturday in defiance of
U.S. pressure to end their offensive.
- A day after the suicide attack, Arafat complied.
- "We strongly condemn the violent operations directed
at Israeli civilians, especially the latest operation in Jerusalem,"
Arafat said in a statement carried by the official Palestinian news agency
WAFA and read on Palestinian television.
- He also condemned "all acts of terrorism that target
civilians, whether they are Israelis or Palestinians and whether this terrorism
was state terrorism or by individuals or groups."
- Echoing other Palestinian officials, Arafat accused the
Israeli forces of committing "massacres and slaughters" against
Palestinians during their 15-day-old West Bank campaign -- an allegation
the army has denied.
- Arafat aide Nabil Abu Rdainah said Palestinian officials
expected the meeting with Powell would now be rescheduled for Sunday, but
that they had yet to hear from U.S. officials.
- A senior State Department official said only that Powell
was examining Arafat's statement, which was issued in Arabic as U.S. officials
- Arafat has been trapped in his headquarters in Ramallah
surrounded by Israeli tanks since March 29, when the Israeli army launched
a sweeping offensive in the West Bank after a suicide bombing killed 28
people in an Israeli hotel.
- The continuation of such attacks, even after the start
of Powell's visit, has reinforced Israel's resistance to Washington's demands
that it halt its West Bank onslaught.
- But Powell urged Israeli forces on Saturday "to
exercise the utmost restraint and discipline and refrain from the excessive
use of force."
- TANKS ON THE MOVE
- Tanks rolled into the towns of Arabe, Hashmiyah and al-Yamoun
and the village of Birqin and imposed strict curfews on their inhabitants.
- All four places are close to the northern city of Jenin,
the scene of fierce fighting until Israeli forces finished off the last
major pocket of Palestinian resistance on Thursday.
- Troops also entered three villages near Nablus and Ramallah.
The army said it had arrested 40 Palestinians for what it called "terrorist
- The new Israeli raids came the day after Powell met Prime
Minister Ariel Sharon and pressed him to withdraw from the Palestinian
cities and towns that the army has occupied in a drive it says is aimed
at destroying "terror infrastructure."
- Sharon has already ignored a flurry of similar calls
from Washington, Israel's chief ally, and made no commitment to Powell
beyond speeding up military operations.
- Powell's mission got off to a grim start with Friday's
bombing just outside the Mahane Yehuda market in Jewish west Jerusalem.
The blast, detonated by a woman bomber, left the area strewn with pools
of blood, body parts, shattered glass and charred fruits and vegetables.
- The al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade, a group linked to Arafat's
Fatah movement, said it had carried out the attack. A senior Palestinian
security official said it appeared to be revenge for Israel's assault on
- Powell got a first-hand view of the carnage in Jerusalem
from aboard a military helicopter. He responded by scrapping his meeting
with Arafat in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
- "The secretary condemns in the strongest possible
terms today's terrorist attack and expects Chairman Arafat to do so as
well," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said, echoing a
stand taken by the White House.
- Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo, a
senior Arafat aide, accused the United States of applying a double standard
by denouncing violence against Israelis but ignoring what he called "massacres"
by the Israeli army.
- Arafat has struggled to perform a balancing act between
U.S. pressure to crack down on militants and the Palestinian public's support
for revenge attacks against Israel.
- FATE OF MEETING UNCLEAR
- In place of the Arafat meeting on Saturday, Powell met
Christian religious leaders and international relief officials concerned
about the humanitarian crisis caused by Israel's assault in the West Bank.
- The latest bombing raised questions about whether the
army was achieving its mission of rooting out suicide bombers. A bombing
on a bus near Haifa on Wednesday killed eight Israelis.
- Powell warned Israel on Friday of what he called the
long-term consequences of a campaign that has killed at least 200 Palestinians
and provoked regional and international anger. Sharon countered by saying
there "cannot be peace with terror."
- Israeli leaders are normally careful to avoid alienating
the United States, which provides the Jewish state with $3 billion in annual
aid, but Sharon has made a career of testing the limits of Washington's
- At least 1,264 Palestinians and 452 Israelis have been
killed since the uprising against Israeli occupation erupted in September