JIM LEHRER: Our Middle East update. We start with two reports from Tim Ewart of Independent Television News. (Sirens)
TIM EWART: It was a day when the focus should have been on a cease-fire. Instead, a suicide bombing once again brought panic to the streets of Jerusalem. The bomber was a woman from the beleaguered Palestinian town of Jenin. Her target, a bus stop at a market packed with shoppers just before the start of the Jewish Sabbath.
SPOKESMAN: The message was sent by Yasser Arafat. This is the message.
TIM EWART: In Jenin, frightened women and children were venturing from their homes today. The worst of the fighting here is over, but there are still bursts of gunfire. (Gunfire) The Palestinians accuse the Israelis of a massacre here and of bulldozing bodies under the rubble. The Israelis, who continue to patrol the streets of Jenin in strength, deny that. But they admitted today there had been hundreds of Palestinian dead and injured. These Palestinian men surrendered and were taken prisoner. They were forced to approach Israeli soldiers one at a time and remove clothing to prove they weren't carrying explosives. Some of Jenin's injured were finally receiving treatment today. (Sirens) And in Jerusalem, victims of the latest bomb were being ferried to hospital.
JIM LEHRER: And to the Powell mission. And to Terence Smith.
TERENCE SMITH: Early today in Jerusalem, hours before the suicide bombing, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon welcomed the American Secretary of State. They spoke to reporters afterward.
ARIEL SHARON, Prime Minister, Israel (Translated): I would like to welcome Mr. Secretary of State, Mr. Colin Powell. You are here among friends. You are a friend of Israel. Israel is conducting a war against the Palestinian infrastructure of terrorism, and it does hope to conclude this shortly. Israeli is the only democracy the world where every single kindergarten and school has to be guarded to prevent Palestinian attacks on the children.
COLIN POWELL: The Prime Minister and I had good discussions about the nature of the operations that are underway. He understands President Bush's position. We had a chance to exchange those positions, and I am pleased that he is anxious to bring these operations to an end as soon as possible, and I hope that in my stay here we will have time to discuss this at some greater length.
Mr. Prime Minister, I hope that in the course of my visit and our conversations, not only with you and members of your government, but with Chairman Arafat and other Palestinian authorities, a way can be found to move forward. I also want to share your concern about a situation on your northern border. I think this is the time for all parties in the region who have a commitment to peace, who truly believe in peace, and want to see an end to violence. All parties in the region must play a role to restrain any aggressive activities along Israel's northern border.
REPORTER: Mr. Secretary, it sounds as if you didn't get a timetable for Israel to pull back. If that's so, please verify that. Has the Prime Minister convinced you of the efficacy of the operation and the need to do this to protect Israel's survival? And do you have a commitment of the Prime Minister to get engaged in the political process that is part of your agenda, one that you have said should be the Palestinian's hope for a state?
COLIN POWELL: On the last point, the Prime Minister has indicated his support for a process to move forward politically through his acceptance of the Mitchell report, and we have talked about ways to move forward. With respect to discussions on timetable and the like, we shared and exchanged views and I look forward to further exchanges of view in the next few days. But I don't have a specific answer on timeline.
TERENCE SMITH: Late in the day, after news of the suicide attack, Powell spoke from northern Israel, near the Lebanese border.
COLIN POWELL: I just spoke to Prime Minister Sharon a moment ago, and I expressed my deep regret over the incident that took place in Jerusalem this afternoon. I condemn the terrorists for this act.
TERENCE SMITH: Powell said the terrorist incident illustrated the danger of the current situation. For more on the Powell mission, we are joined by The New York Times Chief Diplomatic Correspondent Todd Purdum. He's been traveling with Secretary Powell.
Todd, this, I take it, is a postponement of the planned meeting with Yasser Arafat, not a cancellation?
TODD PURDUM: Yes, sir, that's essentially the way American officials are characterizing it. For days on his way here to the Middle East Secretary Powell has repeatedly said how important he thinks it is to meet with Chairman Arafat, how much Arab leaders in the region have said they see chairman Arafat as a person with whom the Israelis will have to deal, asked about plans for a meeting on Sunday, the State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher said "we'll see." But the working assumption here now is Secretary Powell tried to see Chairman Arafat on Sunday if that's possible.
TERENCE SMITH: Well, now, they're asking for some sort of public denouncing of terror by Yasser Arafat. Is that a pre-condition? Does the meeting seem to depend on that?
TODD PURDUM: They are very definitely asking for it. They have, at the same time, gone out of their way to avoid setting iron-clad preconditions, partly because Vice President Dick Cheney came to grief by doing that a couple of weeks ago. It's clear from the White House and the State Department and Secretary Powell today that they expect chairman Arafat to make very concrete and definite statements condoning this attack and terrorism in general.
TERENCE SMITH: Todd, what's the message in the postponement, or behind it?
TODD PURDUM: Well, I think it's inevitable Terry. I think the postponement was caused by the fact that it's just impossible to go tomorrow morning to see Chairman Arafat in his compound in Ramallah less than 24 hours after a militant group with ties to his Fatah faction claims responsibility, or as one State Department official said tonight "took blame" for the incident. And I think they're buying a little time hoping that Chairman Arafat will step up to the plate and do what they long wanted him to, do what was make more unequivocal statements condemning this kind of activity.
TERENCE SMITH: Given today's violence given this postponement, what are the prospects now? What do the officials tell you about achieving a cease-fire?
TODD PURDUM: Oh, Terry, I think no one can say. It's about the worst possible sort of greeting that could have happened. They were hopeful that things would remain quiet on the ground here. There's been relative calm for the last week or so. Not, certainly, calm in the Palestinian territories where Israeli defense forces have continued their actions but there has been relatively little Palestinian terrorism. So I think that shakes everything up very badly and they're probably meeting as I speak trying to figure out exactly what their strategy will be.
TERENCE SMITH: Today when the Secretary came out of his meeting with Prime Minister Sharon, the atmosphere seemed quite cordial and yet this was supposed to be a meeting in which the Secretary was going to press Sharon and Peres him hard on pulling out of the West Bank. What are you being told happened?
TODD PURDUM: I think Secretary Powell did press Prime Minister Sharon on that point and in fact the body language of the American as they emerged from the meeting seemed tense, the expressions were non-committal, whereas Prime Minister Sharon was avuncular and smiling. I think they realized the challenge ahead of them. They described it as a first meeting, one in which they didn't expect breakthroughs.
It's clear a good part of the time was taken up with not only Prime Minister Sharon but other Israeli officials stating their previously well-known positions and the Americans, you know, intend to go back and have more discussions. Secretary Powell made that clear today. He took note of the limits of a first meeting by saying that they had had a candid exchange of views, quote/unquote, and Secretary Powell noted this is what diplomats use to describe discussions that mostly involve differences instead of commonalities.
TERENCE SMITH: Exactly. And I take it there's no commitment to a specific timetable for an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank. Have the U.S. and Israel essentially agreed to disagree about this?
TODD PURDUM: I think a little bit. The Bush Administration has been less emphatic in recent days about expecting an immediate withdrawal. Foreign Minister Shimon Peres told Secretary Powell today and repeated to us afterwards that the original plan envisioned perhaps four weeks of activity by Israel in the territories. He said he thought a week or two at most remained. Now he's much more dovish than Prime Minister Sharon on most issues, so it wasn't clear that he was speaking for the entire government in saying so, but it's clear that the Americans don't expect this to last forever and they're trying to put the best face on Israel's withdrawals from some areas so far.
TERENCE SMITH: Meanwhile, Secretary Powell went to the northern border with Lebanon today by helicopter. What did he see and hear there?
TODD PURDUM: He got a classified briefing of about an hour from Israeli military officials and while he was there they informed him that the Syrian-backed Hezbollah guerrillas over at the Lebanon border had begun their near-daily rounds of artillery or rocket fire and as you just recorded, apparently Israel retaliated. He came out to make a statement afterwards not only about the terrorist bombing but about his concern over this instability on the border which American and Israeli officials both fear could turn into some kind of wider conflict, effectively opening up a second front and threatening stability in the wider region.
TERENCE SMITH: Is he going to do anything about it? I mean, is there any discussion or speculation about going to Damascus or dealing with the Syrians?
TODD PURDUM: The Americans have made it quite clear that they've already put pressure on the Syrians through allies like Russia and have talked directly with the Syrians. Vice President Dick Cheney called the Syrian it is other day. There is some speculation here that Secretary Powell might make a stop in Damascus. American officials say it's simply early to make any conclusive statements about that one way or another.
TERENCE SMITH: All right. Meanwhile, we'll stay tuned. Todd Purdum, thank you very much.
TODD PURDUM: Thank you, Terry.