U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon emerged from hours of talks Friday with no timetable for withdrawing Israeli troops from Palestinian cities and towns on the West Bank.
Powell said after the talks he hoped to reach agreement with Israel’s Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on the duration of Israel's military offensive in the West Bank and move on to peacemaking, AP reported.
Speaking at a joint news conference with Sharon after their talks, Powell warned Israel of what he called the long-term strategic consequences of the two-week-old sweep and its effect on other nations in the Middle East.
"I hope we can find a way to come into agreement on this point of the duration of the operations and get back to a track that will lead to a political settlement," said Powell.
"We do understand what terrorism is, and as we have responded to terrorism, we know that Israel has a right to respond to terrorism. The question is how do we get beyond just a response?"
Sharon, for his part, gave no commitment on when the military operation would end.
"Israel is waging war against the infrastructure of Palestinian terrorism and Israel hopes to conclude this war very soon," the Israeli prime minister said.
Powell said he and Sharon had a "mutual commitment" to bring the two sides to negotiations toward a peace settlement that would eventually lead to a Palestinian state. "We recognize that eventually to reach the kind of solution that is needed, the parties must talk," Powell said, "the parties must begin negotiations."
Powell said he came away from his conversations with Sharon with "a commitment to peace, a commitment to finding a way forward ... so that these two peoples can live together side by side."
Powell's talks with Sharon will be followed Saturday by talks with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in his devastated office in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
Arafat told a packed Cairo cathedral Thursday night that he will defend "sacred holy land" sites in the face of Israeli aggression and called the siege on the Church of Nativity a "crime."
Speaking by cell phone from his West Bank compound in Ramallah, Arafat told some 5,000 people at the Abbassiya Cathedral that the "Palestinian people will die in defending ourselves" against Israeli attacks on Palestinian territories.
In a show of national solidarity, top Christian and Muslim leaders, gathered with political figures, artists and community chiefs for the National Conference for the Support of the Palestinian People.
"The (Israeli) occupation is going beyond limits, not only against ... our children, our women ... (but) against our Christian and Muslim sanctuaries," Arafat said.
"The aggression that continues today against the Church of the Nativity ... is a crime ... we will continue to defend these churches regardless of anybody. We will die in defending ourselves," he said to loud applause. (Albawaba.com)
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