U.S. Envoy "Encouraged" by Cease-Fire Talks
The U.S. envoy met for 90 minutes late Friday with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, following separate talks Thursday with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Zinni said he was “extremely encouraged” that his second mission to establish a truce would be successful.
“I think in the next few days that we can start on my mission and the implementation for the plan that we have brought,” said Zinni to reporters after a meeting with Arafat at his West Bank headquarters.
Earlier Friday, Zinni met with Israel’s defense and foreign ministers. Following that meeting, Zinni said, “despite the conditions, I think there are the ingredients here for hope. My expectation is success.”
Echoing Zinni’s optimism, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said success was possible “because both sides want it and need it.”
The two sides remain at odds over the terms of a truce, with Israel rejecting a Palestinian demand for a complete Israeli withdrawal from all areas before starting cease-fire negotiations.
Israel did begin a phased withdrawal from some areas on Friday, pulling tanks out of Ramallah. It was the first move to curtail wha6t has become the West Bank since 1967.
Even as Israeli tanks withdrew, fighting continued in the region. Three Palestinians were killed Friday by Israeli fire in Gaza Strip, and a suspected Palestinian informer for Israel was shot in the West Bank.
Before leaving Ramallah, Israeli bulldozers dug deep trenches in several main roads, effectively blocking access into and out of town in what Palestinian officials described as “an internal siege.”
President Bush praised the Israeli withdrawal saying he was hopeful the U.S. envoy would succeed to bringing about a cease-fire to the almost 18 months of violence.
The United States is reportedly pressuring Israel to leave all Palestinian-controlled areas. There is a growing concern in the Bush administration that Sharon’s offensive may have gone too far and could be undercutting the U.S. anti-terrorism coalition.
Secretary of State Powell made the withdrawal demand to Sharon this week, and Zinni repeated his call in a meeting with the prime minister.
In response, Israeli officials told Zinni that Israeli troops would have to remain in some Palestinian areas in order to prevent attacks on Israelis by radicals.
“We explained the need to be there, especially in the absence of anti-terror activities by Arafat’s officials,” said Cabinet minister Tsipi Livni, who participated in the meeting.
Palestinian officials are refusing direct talks with Israel about a cease-fire until troops are pulled out all Palestinian-controlled areas.
“Negotiating with the Israelis in the current situation means that we are negotiating with them under the threat of the Israeli tanks,” said Ahmed Abdel Rahman, a senior Arafat adviser.
After three days under Israeli occupation thousands of Palestinians poured into the streets of Ramallah to bury four of the 13 Palestinians killed in skirmishes since Tuesday. Policemen fired in the air as the bodies, wrapped in Palestinian flags, were carried on stretchers from a mosque to a cemetery.
Israel deployed some 20,000 soldiers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in recent days — a response to a string of deadly attacks on Israelis by Palestinian militants. It was not clear how many of the soldiers would remain in the West Bank and Gaza after Friday’s redeployment. Around 83 percent of the West Bank is still under Israel’s partial or full control.
Since the beginning of March, 184 people have been killed on the Palestinian side and 62 people are dead on the Israeli side following the bloodiest fighting in 18 months.