U.S. officials said the next meeting between Secretary of State, Colin Powell and Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat would take place Wednesday. Announcing Powell's plans earlier, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said: "Secretary of State Powell will meet with Prime Minister Sharon late tomorrow (Tuesday) afternoon. We are also making arrangements to meet with Chairman (Yasser) Arafat on Wednesday morning.”
Palestinian officials said the two sides were working on a joint statement. The first draft, obtained by The Associated Press, declares that the Palestinian goal of a state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem must be attained "through negotiations, not terror and violence."
The statement, meant to be signed by Arafat, also calls for Israel to pull out of Palestinian-controlled areas. On Monday, members of Powell's delegation met with Palestinian negotiators in the West Bank town of Jericho.
Meanwhile, Israel’s Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Monday that Israeli troops would press ahead with its military campaign against in two major West Bank towns despite U.S. pleas for a full withdrawal. Sharon said Israeli forces would not leave Bethlehem until the standoff is over and will not leave Ramallah until those behind the October assassination of Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi are handed over.
President Bush spoke to Sharon by telephone for 15 minutes on Monday and the president found Sharon's promise to start a withdrawal a positive development, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer told reporters.
"The president expressed his belief that this will increase the prospects to bring peace to the region," Fleischer said. "The president urged the prime minister to consider the human dimensions and to improve human conditions throughout the West Bank."
However. Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Sharon was defying Washington and the international community by refusing to withdraw immediately from the West Bank as Bush had demanded.
"He's playing with words," Erekat said. "He is turning our towns, villages and refugee camps into big prisons."
In addition, Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo said, "We don't plan to deal with these conditions. He must leave every city that has been reoccupied without any conditions. We are not going to bargain with the Israelis over every town and village." (Albawaba.com)
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