- NABLUS, West Bank (Reuters)
- Israeli forces raided the West Bank city of Nablus early on Friday as
the United States stepped up diplomacy in an effort to cool the conflict.
- In Washington, Secretary of State Colin Powell said preparations
were under way for a Middle East peace conference this summer but no venue
or precise date had yet been set.
- A Palestinian policeman was killed in a gun battle that
erupted as Israeli troops and armored vehicles thrust into the west and
north of Nablus in a raid the army said was intended "to prevent terror
- Israeli troops took over several buildings and were reported
to be carrying out arrests. The army said in a statement its troops would
withdraw at the end of the mission.
- Palestinian President Yasser Arafat spent Thursday reveling
in the adulation of Palestinian crowds following the end of Israel's one-month
siege of his headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
- In an interview with Reuters, Arafat took a diplomatic
tack, saying he still saw Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon as a partner
for peace despite the destruction wrought on Palestinian areas by the Israeli
- "He is the person who has been elected by the Israelis
and we are dealing with him... because our partner is the Israeli people,"
- Those words contrasted with his angry denunciation earlier
in the day of the Israeli government as "Nazis, terrorists and racists."
- President Bush put an optimistic spin on the crisis that
has torn the region since the collapse of peace talks shortly before the
outbreak of a Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation 19 months
- Bush, whose government is Israel's strongest ally, told
a news conference after meeting European Union leaders that he believed
progress was being made toward ending the violence and restarting talks
on a Palestinian state.
- He spoke about a U.S.-European vision of a Palestinian
state living side by side in security with Israel.
- But wagging his finger at both Sharon and Arafat, he
cautioned: "A Palestinian state must be achieved by negotiating an
end to occupation but such a state cannot be based on a foundation of terror
- TALK OF PEACE CONFERENCE
- Powell mentioned preparations for a summer conference
on the Middle East after meeting U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Russian
Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and two European Union leaders -- the so-called
"quartet" set up to co-ordinate the international effort to find
- "This is a time for prompt action to take advantage
of this new window of opportunity that has been presented to us, and we
intend to do just that," Powell said.
- On the ground the two sides remained locked in confrontation,
including the Israeli siege of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem,
continued action by Israeli forces in the West Bank and Gaza, and Israeli
fears Palestinian militants could strike civilian targets at any time.
- In Bethlehem, the church siege entered its second month
with Israeli troops shooting dead one man they said was a militant and
wounding two others who ventured into a courtyard.
- Palestinian gunmen wanted by Israel ducked into the church,
revered by Christians as the site of Jesus' birth, on April 2 to escape
soldiers who had moved into Bethlehem.
- Inside are dozens of civilians, clergymen and Palestinian
security men whom Israel describes as hostages and Palestinians say are
- Bethlehem mayor, Hanna Nasser, said Palestinians had
proposed the wanted militants be handed to Palestinian custody in Jericho
under the supervision of U.S. and British monitors.
- A similar deal over six wanted men accused of assassinating
an Israeli cabinet minister last year secured the lifting of the siege
of Arafat's headquarters this week.
- U.N. JENIN MISSION ABANDONED
- Palestinians and their Arab allies were enraged over
the collapse of a U.N. investigation into what they claim was a massacre
by Israeli troops in the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank last month.
- U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan disbanded the team
after Israeli opposition. Arab nations pushed the United Nations to strongly
criticize Israel for blocking the mission.
- Israel said the terms of the investigation were stacked
against it. Israel denies all allegations of massacres at Jenin and says
deaths there were the result of heavy fighting as it rooted out a terrorist
- International officials and human rights groups say they
have found no evidence to back charges of massacres but say Israeli troops
might have committed lesser violations of international norms.
- Human Rights Watch said in a report on Friday it had
identified 52 Palestinians killed during eight days of fierce house-to-house
fighting at the camp, of whom 22 were civilians.
- "Many of the civilians were killed willfully or
unlawfully," it said. "Human Rights Watch also found that the
IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) used Palestinian civilians as human shields
and used indiscriminate and excessive force during the operation."
- But it added: "Human Rights Watch did not find evidence
to support claims that the IDF massacred hundreds of Palestinians in the
camp." Israel said seven of those killed in the camp were civilians.
- At least 1,335 Palestinians as well as 458 Israelis have
been killed since the Palestinian uprising began in September 2000.