As Arafat speaks out, Powell agrees to meet

Palestinian leader formally condemns violence against Israel

Includes latest suicide bombing

Officials to gather today

Israeli foreign policy aide scornful of comments

April 14, 2002|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

JERUSALEM - Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said yesterday that he would meet with Yasser Arafat today, after the Palestinian leader issued a statement condemning violence against Israeli civilians, and "especially the attack that took place against Israeli citizens yesterday in Jerusalem."

The reference was to a suicide bombing in Jerusalem on Friday that killed six people. After the attack, Powell canceled a meeting with Arafat that had been scheduled yesterday, and the White House demanded that Arafat issue a statement condemning terrorism.

That statement was issued yesterday afternoon. In it, while condemning the suicide bombing, Arafat also railed at length against Israel for "escalating the military attacks, the suffocating siege and the continuation of occupation of our people, refugee camps, cities and villages as well as a total destruction of our infrastructure."

After studying the statement, Powell concluded that it met his requirements and announced that late this morning he would visit Arafat at his offices in Ramallah, in the West Bank, where he has been sealed with about 100 other people by Israeli troops for 15 days now.

Palestinian officials who met with Arafat yesterday said that the conditions there were appalling, because the compound has been without water, and often without electricity, for much of the past two weeks. Powell was expected to travel there in an armored convoy.

Explaining the decision to reschedule the visit, Richard A. Boucher, the State Department spokesman, said that Arafat's statement "contains a number of interesting and positive elements: a condemnation of all terrorist acts against Israeli and Palestinian civilians, a strong condemnation of yesterday's bombing in Jerusalem" and support for American peace initiatives and Powell's mission.

Earlier in the day, at a meeting with U.N. and International Red Cross officials, Powell had also demanded restraint from Israel, urging its army to refrain from the "excessive use of force."

The Israeli government, whose prime minister, Ariel Sharon, had described Powell's plan to meet Arafat as a "tragic mistake," dismissed Arafat's statement yesterday. Daniel Ayalon, a foreign policy adviser to Sharon, said, "Such a condemnation is not worth anything, coming from a man who is the top terrorist official. Arafat is being two-faced. On one hand, he has statements published condemning terrorism. On the other, he incites violence and supports terrorism."

The Palestinians have been irritated by what they call a double standard from Washington, with constant pressures on the Palestinians to condemn suicide bombings, but no condemnation of the heavy casualties inflicted by the Israeli army on Palestinian civilians, which the Palestinians refer to as "state terrorism."

The suicide bomber blew herself up on Friday just outside an entrance to the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem, apparently blocked from entering by heavy security. Six people were killed and many seriously injured in the attack.

A statement issued through Hezbollah, the militant Islamic movement in Lebanon, said the Aksa Martyrs' Brigades were responsible for the attack. Al Aksa is linked to Arafat's Fatah movement, and has been responsible for the majority of suicide bombings since January.

Saeb Erekat, one of the officials of the Palestinian Authority who visited Arafat yesterday, said that he had found the conditions in Arafat's offices "awful."

"They've had no running water for 15 days. People are not taking showers. There is a shortage of food, medicine," he said.

Israeli officials have put the number of people with Arafat at more than 100 and have said they will not lift the siege until several wanted men surrender.

The military situation remained largely unchanged yesterday. Israeli armor swept through three West Bank towns, evidently to seize men or to search houses identified by men arrested in earlier searches. The Israeli army remains in full control of Ramallah, Bethlehem, Jenin and Nablus, and has encircled Tulkarm and Qalqilya.

Israeli officials said the operation was intelligence-driven, in the sense that Israeli intelligence agencies would be following up on leads from captured Palestinians or documents. For this reason, apparently, the Israeli army intended to remain in control of the Palestinians cities and towns for at least a week to 10 days.

On his first day in Israel on Friday, Powell found Sharon determined not to withdraw until he deemed the operation over.

That marked a direct defiance of President Bush's call a week earlier for the Israelis to withdraw "without delay," but the secretary and the White House seemed intent on avoiding the impression of a serious dispute, referring to Sharon as a friend and reiterating that Israel had the right to combat terrorism.

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