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The BBC's Barbara Plett
"Like his Israeli hosts, Colin Powell has indicated the violence needs to further decrease before the next steps towards peace
 real 56k

Ghassin Khatib, Palestinian analyst
"Colin Powell has a very, very difficult task"
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Thursday, 28 June, 2001, 17:44 GMT 18:44 UK
Powell backs Mid-East observers
Colin Powell meets Yasser Arafat in Ramallah on Thursday
The US is increasingly involved in the Middle East
US Secretary of State Colin Powell has given his apparent backing to a Palestinian proposal for independent observers to monitor the fragile Middle East ceasefire.

Speaking after talks in the West Bank city of Ramallah with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, Mr Powell said "There will be a need for monitors, observers, to see what is happening on the ground, and make an independent observation of what has happened".

Palestinians have been pushing for such a force since the outbreak of violence nine months ago, but Israel opposes any significant foreign presence.

But a White House spokesman in Washington denied that Mr Powell was embracing the Palestinian proposal.

The statement "is not an endorsement of what the Palestinians have said," the spokesman, Ari Fleischer said. "There is no change in the United States' position," he added.

Call for progress

Mr Powell held discussions with Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres in the morning before meeting Mr Arafat, and is due to see Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on Thursday evening.

After his meeting with Mr Peres, the US Secretary of State said Israel and the Palestinians must "move as quickly as possible" towards final status negotiations.

Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres
Mr Peres: Israel is committed to the Mitchell plan
He said it was important to be "practical and realistic about what can be accomplished in certain periods of time".

Mr Peres, a dove in Israeli politics, said the Palestinians had not yet taken enough measures to halt the violence, but avoided blaming Mr Arafat.

Violence resumed on Thursday, when a Palestinian gunman shot dead a Jewish woman settler and wounded another in the West Bank.

A Palestinian worker was also reportedly shot and wounded by Israeli troops in the Gaza Strip.

Palestinian leaders now want to move quickly to confidence-building measures, including a freeze on Israeli settlements, but Mr Sharon insists there must first be a complete end to Palestinian violence.


In his remarks, Mr Powell appeared to support the Israeli demand for a period of calm before a return to the negotiating table.

He also insisted on the importance of "all the confidence-building measures" recommended by the Mitchell report - presumably a reference to Israeli settlement-building activity.

I have committed myself to avoid war. There will not be war, there will be no escalation, nor slippage

Israeli PM Ariel Sharon
On Wednesday, Mr Powell said it would be up to the two groups, and in particular the Israelis, to decide when the violence had eased enough to move ahead with the Mitchell plan for resuming peace negotiations.

"At the end of the day it's Mr Sharon who will make that judgement," Mr Powell said.

In a BBC interview, the Palestinian minister for international co-operation, Nabil Shaath, accused the Israelis of trying to sabotage the Mitchell plan.


But he also said he believed the US was now getting more involved in the peace process and would not allow Israel to dictate the pace.

Ariel Sharon and George Bush at the White House
Sharon and Bush disagreed on progress made towards peace
On Thursday, Mr Peres reiterated Israel's support for "the Mitchell plan as a whole".

He said Israel would fulfil its obligations and it expected the Palestinians to do the same.

Differences emerged between Mr Sharon and with President Bush at the White House on Tuesday.

"On the settlement question, the American position is different from ours - that's legitimate and does no harm to our relations," Mr Sharon told reporters.

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27 Jun 01 | Middle East
Arabs want US to push Israel
25 Jun 01 | Middle East
Greater Mid-East role urged for Europe
12 Jun 01 | Middle East
Hardliners disapprove of ceasefire plan
18 Jun 01 | Middle East
Analysis: Annan's Middle East progress
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