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Thursday, 24 October, 2002, 16:41 GMT 17:41 UK
US envoy urges Palestinians to reform
Israeli Defence Minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer (L) shaking hands with US Middle East envoy William Burns
Defence chief Binyamin Ben-Eliezer (l) told Mr Burns that Israel needed more security
US envoy William Burns has told senior Palestinian officials that while Washington recognises the plight of the Palestinians, progress towards statehood can only come through reform and an end to violence.

He held talks with a Palestinian delegation led by chief negotiator Saeb Erekat, after which he acknowledged "the very real suffering and humiliation that the Palestinians experience under occupation every day".

Yasser Arafat
Saeb Erekat was angry that Mr Arafat appeared to have been sidelined
But Mr Burns also stressed that progress hinged on the Palestinian Authority getting tough on militant groups and carrying out thorough internal reforms of its administration.

The US assistant secretary of state is in the region as part of a two-week tour to push a new US plan for restarting peace talks.

The plan - backed by the United Nations, the European Union and Russia - reportedly paves the way for the creation of a Palestinian state by the end of 2005.

Referred to as a "road map" to Palestinian statehood, the three-phase plan envisions a gradual Israeli troop pullback in the coming months, followed by Palestinian elections by May 2003 and full independence by 2005.

Cool response

Both Israelis and Palestinians have expressed doubts about the plan.

Mr Erekat said the proposals referred only to parliamentary and not presidential elections - an apparent attempt to circumvent Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Burnt-out bus
Another suicide attack on Monday has heightened tensions
"This is interference in our internal affairs which is not acceptable," Mr Erekat said after his meeting with Mr Burns in Jericho.

The US and Israel have said they consider Mr Arafat as an obstacle to a peace deal.

Mr Burns has no plans to meet Mr Arafat on this trip.

Israeli reservations

Earlier on Thursday, Mr Burns went to Tel Aviv to meet Israeli Defence Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, who also has reservations about the new peace plan.

Mr Ben-Eliezer said the plan did not address all of Israel's security concerns.

A statement from his office said: "The defence minister emphasised the need to strengthen the security element in the 'road map' because without security there can be no progress.

"Israel reserves the right to self defence and will not accept any constraints by this or any other 'road map'."

Mr Burns is scheduled to meet Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who was shown the US plan last week during a visit to Washington.

He, too, saw problems with it.

An official from Mr Sharon's office said: "There is no question of the Israeli army making the least pullback... until the Palestinian Authority decides to fight terrorists from Islamic Jihad and Hamas and we see some results on the ground."

Upsurge of violence

Correspondents say the prospects of success for Mr Burns' visit do not look promising, coinciding with an upsurge in Palestinian suicide bombings and Israeli army raids that have killed Palestinian civilians.

Israel is considering its response to a Palestinian suicide bombing of a bus which killed at least 14 people, including the bomber, in north-east Israel on Monday.

The militant group Islamic Jihad said two of its members had carried out the attack.

A Palestinian teenager became the latest casualty, killed on Thursday by Israeli machine-gun fire during a confrontation in Jenin between soldiers and stone-throwing youths.

The BBC's Jeremy Cook reports from Jerusalem
"The Palestinian leader found himself once again condemning a Palestinian terror attack"
Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Michael Melchior
"We don't have light at the end of the tunnel"

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See also:

22 Oct 02 | Middle East
18 Oct 02 | Middle East
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25 Jun 02 | Middle East
24 Jun 02 | Middle East
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