15 Palestinians wounded by Israeli fire as Bush steps up pressure on Arafat
On Thursday afternoon, 15 Palestinians were wounded by Israeli gunfire, including an 11-year-old, in the southern Gaza Strip near the border with Egypt. The witnesses said youngsters had thrown pipe bombs at tanks near a border fence and troops had responded with gunfire.
The Israeli army said an armored vehicle had overturned in an accident and rescue personnel sent to scene came under attack and fired back.
Meanwhile, in Washington, U.S. President George W. Bush said the timing and venue of a proposed Middle East peace conference have yet to be worked out, casting doubt on tentative plans for it to be held as early as next month.
"The scheduling of a conference is a matter of making sure that ... we find the right place and the right time to do so. And the Secretary (of State) is working on that," Bush said when asked whether he was prepared to schedule a date for the ministerial-level meeting.
Bush, speaking to reporters after meeting with his Cabinet, also stepped up pressure on Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to overhaul his security forces in order to prevent attacks against Israel. "Mr. Arafat needs to be responsible," he said. Bush also expressed hope the Palestinian Authority would bring in a new finance minister with "international standing" to combat waste and corruption.
"That is a positive development, because one of the things that worries us is spending any international aid on an authority that might not keep good books, that the money might not actually go to help the Palestinian people, but might end up in somebody's pocket. And that concerns us," Bush commented.
Arafat met Thursday afternoon with Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs, William Burns in Ramallah. Burns said that he presented to the Palestinian leader U.S. President George W. Bush's view that for Palestinians to achieve statehood in peaceful coexistence with Israel they had to reform their institutions and stop "acts of terror" against Israelis.
"There has been too much suffering and too much death for
both Palestinians and Israelis," Burns told reporters after the meeting.
"It is time to restore a sense of hope," said Burns.
Palestinian chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat said Burns had told Arafat of U.S. determination to revive the Mideast peace process and to stop the deterioration of the situation on the ground. Erekat said Arafat told Burns of "his commitment to genuine reforms at all levels" in order to build the Palestinian nation-state. (Albawaba.com)
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