The US envoy to the region Anthony Zinni reported an "extremely positive" start to his peace mission aimed at halting nearly 18 months of bloodshed between Israel and the Palestinians.
Zinni made his remarks after a round of talks with both sides and a conciliatory move by Israel, which bowed to US pressure and pulled its forces back from towns they had occupied in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The New York Times said Israel's decision to withdraw came after a "blunt" demand by US Secretary of State Colin Powell, who telephoned Israel’s Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and urged him not to hinder the US bid to broker a ceasefire.
President George W. Bush said he was "very pleased" by Israel's pullout and told reporters at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, that "we're hopeful he (Zinni) will have an impact on setting the conditions for peace."
Zinni Thursday went into talks with Sharon and other Israeli officials. He met with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat Friday. "All of the meetings were extremely positive," the American told reporters after conferring with Arafat in the West Bank city of Ramallah. "Everyone is committed to get out of this situation." "I think in the next few days that we can start on my mission and the implementation for the plan that we have brought," Zinni told reporters.
According to AFP, a senior aide to Sharon said Friday the Israeli leader told Zinni he was prepared to start peace negotiations once a ceasefire was in place. The aide, who asked not to be named, said that to further the process a joint Israeli-Palestinian commission would be activated for the first time since Sharon came to power more than a year ago.
Zinni met with Arafat, who was waiting with his own ceasefire plan, according to a top Arafat aide. Neither man would take any questions afterward. But Arafat welcomed Zinni's efforts and added: "Let me once again reiterate our full commitment to the peace process, the peace of the brave."
On Saturday, Zinni is due to meet with PA officials Saeb Erekat, Ahmed Qurei (Abu Ala) and Yasser Abed Rabbo. (Albawaba.com)
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