During a press briefing at the State Department, Powell said recent progress toward a cease-fire was undermined by what he called “raw terrorist acts.” He said Yasser Arafat must act immediately to end attacks like the Passover suicide bombing that killed 22 Israelis in Netanya and a second attack in a Jerusalem market today that killed two people.
The secretary spoke after Israeli troops had responded to those attacks by storming Arafat’s Ramallah compound and isolating him on the second floor of the three-story building. Israel declared Arafat an enemy of the state earlier in the day. Powell said he had spoken with Sharon and that Israel had promised not to harm the Palestinian leader.
He said President Bush and his top aides were “gravely concerned” about the latest bloodshed and “deplored” the killing of Palestinians during the Israeli operation. But the Secretary was emphatic that it was time for Arafat to “act – act against those responsible for terrorist acts and to make clear to the Palestinian people that terror and violence must halt now.
“I ask Arab nations to deliver this message,” Mr. Powell said, adding that he hoped members of the European Union would convey the same sentiments.
Arab leaders, having just met in Beirut, are unlikely to follow Powell’s lead. Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Abdullah, whose peace proposal was endorsed by the summit yesterday, called the assault on Arafat’s headquarters an example of Israeli oppression that breeds suicide bombers.
“What is happening is a savage, despicable act, an inhuman and cruel act. I don’t think any human being can accept this at all,” he said.
In response to U.S. condemnation of Arafat’s efforts to rein in militants, Farouk Kaddoumi, a senior Palestinian official who attended the Arab summit in Arafat’s stead, said there was an imbalance between American means and ends.
“The United States still hesitates to take a strict decision to stop the Israeli aggression, though it declared its vision for a Palestinian state and reaffirmed its decision in the United Nations resolution,” he told the assembly.
Arab leaders also encouraged Palestinians to keep fighting until Israel agrees to the proposal.
“It’s not a question of terrorism,” said Amr Moussa, the secretary general of the Arab League. “It’s a question of occupation of Arab land, which necessarily leads to legitimate resistance.”
The Saudi crown prince said he hoped the Israeli people wanted peace enough to embrace his plan for the Middle East.
“I believe what will convince the Israeli people the most are the interests of the Israeli people. The Arabs have extended their hands for peace with all sincerity. Do the Israelis want peace and security or not, that is the main issue,” he said.
The prince said Israel’s initial rejection of his plan “does not represent the view of the Israeli people.” It is instead the view of “one person, a criminal drenched in blood,” he said, referring to Prime Minister Sharon.
Despite the escalating violence, the Saudi prince said he was confident that there was a chance for a peace like the one proposed in his plan.
“Regardless of the circumstances and what is happening, in the end justice and fairness will prevail. People who look ahead to the future do not get disappointed. I am not disappointed,” he said.