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The BBC's Paul Adams
"Both sides know the coming months may be testing times"
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The BBC's Hilary Andersson
"A pivotal moment in Colin Powell's tour as he met Israel's new leader"
 real 56k

The BBC's Steve Gibbs
"Palestinians are hoping that America will pressure Israel into implementing past peace deals"
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Editor-in-Chief of Al Quds al-Arabi Abdel Bari Atwan
"He should say to the Israelis "you have to go back to the negotiating table without any preconditions"
 real 56k

Sunday, 25 February, 2001, 20:14 GMT
Powell treads fine line in Mid-East
Burning effigy
Palestinians burned a Sharon effigy ahead of the meeting
The new US Secretary of State Colin Powell has attempted to find a balance between Israeli and Palestinian demands in his first meetings with leaders in the region.

He held talks with Israel's Prime Minister-elect Ariel Sharon in Jerusalem, followed by a meeting with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

Voicing sympathy for both sides, he backed the Israeli stance that there must be a cessation of violence before talks resume, while at the same time calling for a lifting of the siege on the Palestinian territories.

Powell in Egypt
Colin Powell has been sympathetic to both sides
In a further outbreak of violence, a Palestinian man was shot dead by Israeli soldiers while driving his car in the West Bank town of Tulkarem during an exchange of fire between the army and armed Palestinians.

Two Israeli settlers and a Palestinian were shot and wounded in earlier clashes in the territory.

"I think we all need to work hard, all sides, to bring the violence under control and get out of this terrible cycle where we have violence and counter violence," said Mr Powell.

After meeting Mr Sharon he described the US relationship with Israel as "unbreakable," saying that "the US commitment to Israel is rock-solid and will remain so under the Bush administration."

Sealed off

Later, having met Mr Arafat, Mr Powell urged Israel to lift its "siege" of the West Bank and Gaza Strip as soon as possible to enable the resumption of Palestinian economic activity.

Speaking at a joint news conference with Mr Arafat, he said:

"We discussed how it is necessary for all sides to move away from violence and incitement and how it is necessary to lift the siege as soon as possible, so that economic activity can begin again in the region."

Israel has sealed off the two territories, home to three million Palestinians, because of what it says are security concerns.

Palestinian 'terror'

But Mr Sharon has refused to ease the sanctions imposed on the Palestinians saying: "It is completely clear that in order to ease the sanctions, there are steps that Chairman Arafat must take."

Mr Powell's Tour
Saturday, Egypt - discusses Iraq and missile defence
Sunday, Israel & Gaza - urges end to violence and sanctions
Sunday, Jordan - meets King Abdullah II
Sunday, Kuwait - Gulf War 10th anniversary celebrations
Other destinations - Damascus, Riyadh and Brussels

He also remains firm on his stance that negotiations should not begin without a halt to the violence.

"The Palestinian Authority must take immediate action to stop terror and violence...I will conduct negotiations with the Palestinian Authority following the cessation of hostilities," he said.

Mr Powell has now travelled to Jordan where he will hold talks with King Abdullah II during his short stay there.

Fresh violence

According to reports from Israeli security sources Palestinian gunmen have shot and wounded two Jewish settlers in the West Bank.

An Israeli motorist was shot in the head while driving near the Ateret Jewish settlement and in a later incident a Jewish woman was shot and wounded in the hand and legs near the West Bank settlement of Ofra.

Also at least one Palestinian has been shot during stone-throwing clashes in the divided West Bank city of Hebron.

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24 Feb 01 | Middle East
Powell presses anti-Saddam message
24 Feb 01 | Middle East
Powell opens talks with Moscow
06 Feb 01 | Middle East
What Sharon means for peace
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