U.S. presses Israel on Palestinian state despite attacks

Monday, May 12, 2003

JERUSALEM The United States has urged Israel to immediately take steps toward the establishment of a Palestinian state amid a new wave of insurgency attacks.

"I think that we find there is enough on the roadmap that we do agree on that we could get started," said U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, who arrived in Israel for talks with government leaders.

The "roadmap" calls for the establishment of an interim Palestinian state by the end of the year. A Palestinian state with permanent borders would be set up in 2005.

Palestinian insurgents have intensified attacks on Israeli targets during Powell's visit, Middle East Newsline reported. On Sunday, an Israeli motorist was killed by Palestinian gunmen in an ambush near Ramallah.

Later, Hamas gunners fired at least three Kassam-2 short-range missiles toward Israeli communities. Two missiles landed in the Israeli city of Sderot and the other near Kibbutz Saad. Nobody was reported injured.

U.S. officials said the Bush administration does not want to wait for a cessation in the Israeli-Palestinian war. They said the White House has determined that Israel could begin immediate steps for the suspension of construction activity in the West Bank and the dismantling of unauthorized outposts established over the last two years.

Powell said neither Israel nor the United States insists on a total end to the violence before the roadmap is implemented. Instead, he said, the administration as well as Israel seeks a rhetorical commitment to end the Israeli-Palestinian war.

"One hundred percent intent to me means that the new leadership of the Palestinian people from the prime minister on down will say the kinds of things that the prime minister said on the day he was inaugurated: 'That this has to stop. It is not getting us anywhere.'" Powell said. "And so, that kind of expression rhetorical expression of intent to the people, and to the leaders is what they are looking for, and they are looking for it steadily, in order to change attitudes within the Palestinian people."

Israel has agreed to end all construction activity in Jewish settlements in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The U.S. secretary said Israel and the United States have discussed Israel's insistence to allow construction to handle natural growth of the communities. More than 200,000 Israelis live in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Israeli officials said the government would undertake a series of measures to facilitate Palestinian movement. They said this would include the end of a lengthy closure of several Palestinian cities in the West Bank.

"Israel is prepared to make humanitarian gestures to the Palestinians if they put an end to violence and incitement," Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said.

On Sunday, Powell is scheduled to meet Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas. Palestinian groups, including the ruling Fatah movement headed by PA Chairman Yasser Arafat, have ordered a general strike during the Powell visit. Powell will not meet Arafat.

On late Saturday, two Israelis were injured when four mortars fell into the Israeli community of Neve Dekalim in the Gaza Strip. It was the latest in a series of mortar and rockets attacks on Israeli communities in the central and northern Gaza Strip.

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