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Thursday, 4 April, 2002, 18:35 GMT 19:35 UK
Bush intervenes in Mid-East crisis
Bush and Powell
Mr Bush is sending Colin Powell to the Middle East
US President George W Bush has issued a powerful statement calling for action from both Israel and the Palestinians to halt the current conflict.

He accused the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat of "betraying the hopes" of his own people by failing to stop suicide attacks by militants.

The storms of violence cannot go on. Enough is enough

George W Bush
"They are not martyrs, they are murderers," he said.

At the same time, he demanded that Israel withdraw its troops immediately from Palestinian cities and implement a ceasefire.

"America recognises Israel's right to defend itself from terror," he said outside the White House.

"Yet to lay the foundations of future peace, I ask Israel to halt incursions into Palestinian-controlled areas and begin the withdrawal from those cities it has recently occupied."

However, Israeli television quoted Prime Minister Ariel Sharon as saying that the siege of Palestinian towns would continue.

And senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat rejected the accusations of betrayal, saying Mr Arafat was the elected leader of the Palestinians.

European leaders welcomed the speech, with French President Jacques Chirac calling it "entirely positive".

Intense criticism

Mr Bush announced that he was sending Secretary of State Colin Powell to the region next week to seek broad international support for his proposals.

The new initiative follows intense criticism of the Bush administration for not doing enough to end the crisis.

Enlarge image Click here for map of Israeli operation
As Mr Bush spoke, tanks rolled into the West Bank city of Hebron, further tightening Israel's grip on Palestinian centres of population.

In another development, a delegation from the European Union abandoned its mission to the Middle East, saying it had been denied a meeting with Mr Arafat, who is besieged by Israeli forces in Ramallah.

But Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon later agreed to allow US envoy Anthony Zinni to meet Mr Arafat.

It is not clear when the meeting will take place.

In his speech, Mr Bush said that Israeli "settlement activity" in Palestinian territories had to stop.

He added that an Israeli withdrawal - in line with UN resolutions - should be the basis for agreements between Israel and Syria, and Israel and Lebanon as well.

'End humiliation'

Mr Bush warned Syria and Iran to stay out of the conflict.

He also warned Palestinians that "suicide bombing missions could well blow up the best and only hope for a Palestinian state".

The situation Mr Arafat found himself in was "largely of his own making".

At the same time, Mr Bush called on Israel to be compassionate at checkpoints and border crossings, "sparing innocent Palestinians daily humiliation".

  • Compound covers 12,000 square metres
  • Originally erected in the 4th century, but destroyed
  • Current church built in 6th century
  • Star marks Jesus Christ's birthplace

    See also:   Church with a turbulent history

  • The US initiative came on the seventh day of a major Israeli offensive aimed at capturing Palestinian militants in the West Bank.

    It has seized control of all the major centres of population apart from Jericho and has detained hundreds of suspects.

    In Bethlehem, fighting has been heard coming from the Church of the Nativity, where Israeli troops are besieging up to 200 Palestinian gunmen.

    Palestinian fighters inside the church told the BBC that Israeli forces had blown open the back door.

    One of the priests trapped inside, church warden Father Ibrahim Faltas, said the a gun battle had broken out.

    The Israeli army denied that it had stormed the church, but said its soldiers had fired shots while chasing militants who had escaped.

    More than 100 Israeli tanks and armoured vehicles have occupied Nablus, the West Bank's biggest city, on Wednesday night.

    Four refugee camps in the city are surrounded and there have been fierce exchanges of fire.

    Casualties are reported on both sides, but there are no clear details.

    Ariel Sharon
    Sharon refuses to break the Palestinian leader's isolation
    The Palestinian leadership has asked the international community to intervene "urgently", while vowing that its fighters will continue to resist.

    The Israeli offensive began last Friday in response to a suicide bomb attack in Netanya that killed 26 Israelis at the start of the Jewish Passover holiday.

    Bethlehem and Ramallah have both been declared closed military areas.

    Mr Arafat has been confined to a small area of his Ramallah compound since Israeli troops smashed through the perimeter and occupied most of the buildings inside.

    Senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat
    "I want Mr Powell to come immediately"
    Mayor of Jerusalem Ehud Olmert
    "We are not intending to hold these territories for good"
    UK Foreign Office Minister Ben Bradshaw
    "It was essential that the US became engaged"
    See also:

    04 Apr 02 | Middle East
    Extracts from Bush's speech
    04 Apr 02 | Middle East
    US policy change carries risks
    04 Apr 02 | Middle East
    EU abandons peace mission
    04 Apr 02 | UK Politics
    Blair 'appalled' by Mid East violence
    04 Apr 02 | Middle East
    No let-up in Bethlehem siege
    04 Apr 02 | Europe
    Turkey accuses Israel of genocide
    04 Apr 02 | Middle East
    Bethlehem priest shelters Palestinians
    04 Apr 02 | Middle East
    Palestinian nerve centre hit
    02 Apr 02 | Middle East
    Analysis: Arafat under attack
    02 Apr 02 | Middle East
    Israel considers exiling Arafat
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