Leaders Welcome Peace Conference Proposal, Hamas Hideout Raided

Arafat told reporters in the West Bank city of Ramallah, ”Until now, it is an idea that we welcome. But it has not been agreed upon and we have not been officially notified.”

“We will consult all the brethren Arab leaders over this conference before it convenes.”

According to Secretary of State Colin Powell, the U.S. hopes to hold the conference this summer to take advantage of the “window of opportunity” created by Yasser Arafat’s release from a month-long Israeli siege.

The United States, the United Nations, Russia, and the European Union agreed to the proposed meeting, but no date or venue has been decided upon yet.

The last conference of similar scope that was held in Madrid in 1991 paved the way to a peace treaty between Jordan and Israel and high-level talks between Syria and Israel. It also contributed to the 1993 Oslo agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians.

Despite talks of a diplomatic summit, Israeli continued its efforts to combat Palestinian militants. Israeli troops raided a Hamas hideout in Nablus Friday. In the gunbattle that ensued, a Hamas activist and an Israeli soldier were killed and two Palestinians and two Israelis were wounded.

The raid, which took place in a three-story building in Nablus’ Old City, started around 4 a.m. and continued for roughly five hours. According to the Israeli army, two bomb factories and a carload of weapons were found inside the hideout.

In Bethlehem, the trickle of Palestinians leaving the Church of the Nativity continued with four policemen leaving today. Three were questioned upon their departure, and one was treated at an Israeli hospital.

Roughly 30 Palestinian gunmen and about 200 others remain inside the church in a standoff with Israeli troops that began on April 2nd.