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President Bush, Sharon Meet As Israel Re-Enters Ramallah

Israel’s latest incursion into Ramallah comes five days after a suicide bombing killed 17 Israelis. Israeli officials said the move was intended to send a message that Arafat has not done enough to stop the attacks.

Aides to Arafat said Monday that the Palestinian leader was in the compound but was not harmed. The Israeli army has said that its forces will stay in Ramallah for a “limited time” until their mission of searching for suspected terrorists is completed.

The meetings between Mr. Bush and Sharon are part of wider consultations between the White House and Middle East leaders as the Bush administration plans its next move towards a peaceful solution to more than 20 months of Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

During a meeting with reporters, the president and Sharon renewed calls for significant reforms within the Palestinian Authority. Mr. Bush also reiterated his support of Israel’s right to defend itself against terrorist attacks.

Mr. Bush suggested that a Middle East peace conference originally scheduled for this summer would not happen soon.

“The conditions aren’t even there yet. That’s because no one has confidence in the emerging Palestinian government,” the president said.

Sharon said that he did not see Arafat as “a partner” in potential peace talks. In a New York Times op-ed piece timed to coincide with his meetings in Washington, Sharon repeated that negotiations cannot begin until attacks against Israel cease.

The White House did not voice objection to the latest Israeli incursion except to say that Sharon should consider the effects of such moves on long term plans for peace.

Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo said Israel was using the incursion to undermine the Palestinian Authority and that Sharon’s visit to Washington “shows that the U.S. administration supports this occupation and operation.”

In a separate development, Palestinian police arrested Sheik Abdullah Shami on Sunday, a senior leader of the Islamic Jihad, the militant group claiming responsibility for the latest suicide attack in Israel.

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