WASHINGTON - The United States demanded the immediate withdrawal of Israeli forces Monday from Palestinian-controlled areas of the West Bank and deplored their killing of "numerous" Palestinian civilians during the weekend.
U.S. Ambassador Daniel Kurtzer was directed to convey the pointed message to the Israeli Foreign Ministry. The State Department complaint was the latest in a growing spiral of Bush administration complaints with its closest Middle East ally.
But Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon stood firm, saying Israeli troops would not pull out of six West Bank towns until the Palestinians turned over the assassins of an Israeli Cabinet minister.
An Israeli soldier maneuvres a tank positioned on the outskirts of the northern West Bank town of Qalqilya on Monday, Oct. 22, 2001. Israeli tanks drove deeper into the West Bank town of Ramallah and the Aida refugee camp near Bethlehem Monday, drawing heavy Palestinian return fire on the fifth day of Israel's broadest military strike against the Palestinians in years. (AP Photo/Eitan Hess-Ashkenazi)
On the Arab front, Amr Moussa, secretary-general of the Arab League, said terror in the Middle East "stems mostly from injustice to the Palestinians, who see no light at the end" of "foreign military occupation" of their land.
Moussa, speaking to the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee and the Arab American Institute, praised President Bush for declaring support for establishment of a Palestinian state.
The former Egyptian foreign minister said that while Osama bin Laden does not speak for the Arabs, "frustration, despair and danger are sentiments which if unchecked can be channeled into destructive acts."
Also in Washington, for talks Monday with Vice President Dick Cheney and Tuesday with Secretary of State Colin Powell, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres put heat on the Palestinian Authority's Yasser Arafat to arrest 10 to 15 Palestinians on the West Bank. Peres said they were responsible for most recent terror Israel has endured.
Peres, in a speech and at a news conference, held Arafat responsible only for not taking action against Hamas and other groups designated by the State Department as terrorist organizations.
In fact, the dovish foreign minister again offered Arafat a state, a "position" in Jerusalem and territorial concessions, saying a difference of only 1 percent exists between the offer and Arafat's demands. The Palestinians' traditional demands are for a Palestinian state in Gaza and most of the West Bank, with its capital in the eastern part of Jerusalem.
"We are not fighting a Palestinian state," Peres said. "We want a Palestinian state. We do not want to see the Palestinian people suffer."
Peres said he did not hear a word of criticism of Israel's incursion from either Cheney or Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld in meetings with them.
"I think both the vice president and the secretary of defense know we do not intend to remain" in areas given to the Palestinian Authority, Peres said Monday night at a dinner given by the Center for Middle East Peace and Economic Cooperation.
Urging Arafat to take risks for peace, Peres said: "We are not conducting a personal war against Arafat."
But, Peres added, "he has to arrest 10 to 15 troublemakers who are causing most of the terrorism."
The foreign minister made the rounds Monday, meeting at the Pentagon with Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, and then with Vice President Dick Cheney. Besides Powell, he is due to meet with Condoleezza Rice, Bush's assistant for national security affairs, on Tuesday. The president may drop by the Rice meeting, an administration official said.
Meanwhile, State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said, "We've made very clear to Chairman Arafat and the Palestinian Authority that they must act immediately to arrest all those responsible for the assassination" last week of the Israeli Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi in Jerusalem, "as well as moving decisively against planning and conducting other acts of terror."
The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a hard-line member of Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organization, took responsibility for Zeevi's murder. On Sunday, the Palestine National Council outlawed the PFLP's military wing.
Reeker called that a positive step but said: "Actions are required, not just words."
Dissociating the PFLP from Arafat, Reeker said, "Those who operate against the authority of Chairman Arafat and efforts to achieve a cease-fire act against the interests and aspirations of the Palestinian people."
The brunt of Reeker's statement, however, was directed at Israel.
"Israeli incursions into Palestinian-controlled areas have contributed to a significant escalation in tension and violence."
Acknowledging that Israel had informed the United States it does not intend to remain in those areas, Reeker said: "Israeli defense forces should be withdrawn immediately from all Palestinian-controlled areas, and no further such incursions should be made."
On the Net:
State Department's Near East desk: http://www.state.gov/p/nea/
© Copyright 2001 The Associated Press