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Powell Meets With Arafat, Sharon

Powell began the day in the war-torn town of Ramallah, where he met with Arafat in the Palestinian president’s shattered headquarters.

According to U.S. officials, Powell made a 45-minute presentation to Arafat, telling the leader “the bombings have to stop, that they are a major barrier to moving forward,” on security and political issues, a senior U.S. official told Reuters.

Arafat said his security forces would do everything they could to end the violence once the Israeli army ended its 16-day incursion into Palestinian-controlled areas.

“When the Israelis complete the full withdrawal we will carry out our obligations,” Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said.

According to U.S. sources, Arafat also told the secretary of state his main concern was for the welfare of the Palestinian people, especially in Jenin, the site of fierce fighting.

Following the three-hour meeting, Powell called the discussions “useful and constructive,” but indicated no progress toward a cease-fire.

The meeting had been delayed 24 hours because of a bombing near a Jerusalem marketplace, which killed seven, including the bomber, and injured scores.

Powell only went forward with the talks after the Palestinian leader issued a condemnation of Friday’s bombing and called on an end of attacks against non-military targets in Arabic.

“The Palestinian leadership and His Excellency President Arafat express their deep condemnation for all terrorist activities, whether it is state terrorism, terrorism by a group or individual terrorism,” the statement read in part. “We strongly condemn all the attacks targeting civilians from both sides, and especially the attack that took place against Israeli citizens [Friday] in Jerusalem.”

Following his discussions in Ramallah, Powell traveled to Tel Aviv to meet with Prime Minister Sharon. During the closed-door talks the two reportedly discussed the ongoing military operations and the prospects for an international peace conference once a cease-fire is established.

“Secretary of State Colin Powell had a very good and thorough discussion with Prime Minister Sharon this evening,” State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said in a statement Sunday evening. “He discussed with Prime Minister Sharon some ideas on how to achieve what Israelis and Palestinians want — an end to the violence and moving forward on the political issues… He stressed our serious concerns about the humanitarian situation, particularly in Jenin.”

Sharon said after the meeting that Israel was ready to discuss a larger political peace with all of its Arab neighbors.

“I said we are ready to have a regional conference in which a number of countries would participate — Israel, Egypt, the Saudis, Jordan, Morocco and Palestinian representatives. It doesn’t have to be limited to these,” Sharon said. “The conference would be hosted by the United States. This idea is acceptable to the United States and I estimate that within a short period of time the conference will indeed convene.”

Late Sunday, Arafat said he was ready to participate in such a summit if the U.S. supported the idea.

“Any initiative which would be declared by President Bush I will accept it to achieve peace,” Arafat told Fox News. “I am ready for an immediate conference, but at the same time immediate withdrawal [of Israeli troops]. No one can accept occupation.”

U.S. officials confirmed Powell had discussed the summit with Sharon, but said no details were worked out.

The U.S. will continue diplomatic efforts to defuse the crisis on Monday. Powell will travel to Lebanon and Syria in an attempt to end the Hezbollah attacks on Israeli positions along its northern border.

“He will be traveling to Beirut and Damascus tomorrow for discussion of another situation of urgent and serious concern — firing across the U.N. line at Israel’s northern border,” Boucher said in a statement.

U.S. envoy Anthony Zinni will lead a delegation to meet with Palestinians to discuss ways to implement Arafat’s call for an end to attacks on civilians.