Arafat accepts Blair invitation; Israel may withdraw from center of Bethlehem
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat accepted an invitation to send a delegation to Britain. Prime Minister Tony Blair Monday announced he was inviting Palestinian leaders and representatives of the European Union, Russia, the United States and the United Nations to London in January to discuss reform of the Palestinian Authority.
A British spokesman added that representatives of countries from the Middle East region -- possibly Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan -- would also be invited to attend the talks. But Israel has not been invited.
Arafat quickly accepted the offer to send a delegation, a senior Palestinian official said, according to AFP.
"The British consular authorities in Jerusalem delivered a letter from Mr Blair to President Arafat indicating he wishes to hold talks with a Palestinian delegation on the means to relaunch the peace process," said chief negotiator Saeb Erakat.
"Mr Arafat has accepted this invitation and has to draw up the list of members of this delegation," he conveyed.
Meanwhile Arafat has asked the members of a diplomatic quartet for Middle East peace to quickly get the process back on track, Erakat told AFP.
"Arafat wrote letters to members of the quartet, asking them to do everything possible to immediately relaunch the peace process," he said.
"They should act as soon as possible to end Israeli attacks, destruction of homes, murders and occupation so presidential and general elections may be held" in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, Erakat said.
Arafat's bid to return to the political stage was greeted by a fresh attempt by Israel to eliminate him from the peace process.
A change in Palestinian leadership is one of two "preconditions" for a resumption of Middle East peace talks, Israeli Defense Minister Shaoul Mofaz said in Washington after talks Monday with Secretary of State Colin Powell.
"From our perspective, our main goal is to bring the Palestinians back to the table of negotiation," he said.
"And to bring the Palestinians to the table of negotiation there are two main preconditions: the first one is to change or to elect or to choose the Palestinian leadership according to President Bush's speech on June 24, and the second issue is that the Palestinian will side effectively against terror activity."
On the ground, Israeli troops killed four Palestinians in the Gaza Strip on Monday.
The Israeli army shot dead two armed activists from Hamas at dawn as they tried to enter the Jewish state from the north of the Gaza Strip, Palestinian and Israeli security officials said.
At around the same time near the Jewish settlement of Neve Delakim, part of the Gush Katif settlement bloc in the south of the Strip, a Palestinian man was shot and killed by Israeli forces.
Late Monday, troops shot dead an armed Palestinian near the southern Gaza town of Rafah, the army said.
The daily Haaretz said security forces had also thwarted an attempt by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) to assassinate Jerusalem major Ehud Olmert, a member of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's right-wing Likud party.
Israeli public radio said Monday that the army was considering a possible withdrawal from the center of Bethlehem for Christmas. (Albawaba.com)
© 2002 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)
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