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Friday, 5 April, 2002, 03:26 GMT 04:26 UK
Mid-East initiative gathers momentum
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat
Arafat accepted Bush's words "without conditions"
Palestinian and Israeli officials have welcomed a new US push to halt the bloodshed in the Middle East, despite strong criticism of both sides in a statement by US President George W Bush.

Mr Bush demanded that Israel withdraw its troops immediately from the Palestinian cities they are occupying in the West Bank, while accusing Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat of "betraying the hopes" of his own people.

Enlarge image Click here for map of Israeli operation
As Israeli tanks pushed deeper into Palestinian territory, Mr Bush announced that US Secretary of State Colin Powell would be sent to the region next week to try to negotiate a ceasefire.

And in a Thursday night session, the United Nations Security Council voted 15-0 to endorse Mr Powell's mission and demand an Israeli withdrawal.

The UN resolution calls for the implementation "without delay" of a resolution calling for an Israeli troop withdrawal which was passed with US backing last Saturday.

The initiatives came amid a major Israeli offensive aimed at capturing Palestinian militants in the West Bank.

Israel has seized control of all the major centres of population in the West Bank apart from Jericho and has detained hundreds of people, in response to a suicide bomb attack at the start of the Jewish Passover holiday.

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.

Mission welcomed

Israel's Foreign Ministry welcomed Mr Powell's visit and promised "to do everything so that his mission will be successful".

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon
Mr Sharon said military operations would continue
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has given no formal response, but his office said in a statement, released after Mr Bush speech, that the current siege of Palestinian towns would continue.

However, he reversed his refusal to allow US envoy Anthony Zinni to meet Mr Arafat, who has been trapped in his office for a week by Israeli tanks and troops.

Mr Arafat said in a statement that the Palestinians were "committed without conditions to the declaration of President Bush".

But senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat rejected Bush's criticism of Arafat as "unjustified and unacceptable".

Mr Zinni is expected to meet Mr Arafat on Friday. A delegation from the European Union earlier on Thursday abandoned its mission to the Middle East, saying it had been denied a meeting with the Palestinian leader.

Unanimous vote

Mr Bush's speech called on Israel to halt settlement activity, to pull out of the Palestinian territories defined in UN resolutions, and to "spare innocent Palestinians daily humiliation at checkpoints".

UN Security Council resolution 1397
Reaffirms previous two resolutions (1397 and 1402)
Gravely concerned at situation on the ground
Demands implementation of resolution 1402 without delay
Welcomes US Secretary of State's mission and Russian, EU and UN peace efforts
He also warned Palestinians that "suicide bombing missions could well blow up the best and only hope for a Palestinian state".

He called on Mr Arafat to crack down on "terrorist networks" behind suicide bombings in Israel, and said that America "recognises Israel's right to defend itself from terror".

The Palestinian UN envoy, Nasser Al-Kidwa said the UN's unanimous support for Thursday's resolution would "add the weight of the [Security] Council... to the weight of the [US] presidency".

The US had consistently refused to support such resolutions until 12 March, when it voted for the first time in favour of a resolution calling for the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Colin Powell
Colin Powell will spearhead a new peace initiative
Even Syria, which had withheld support from the previous two motions, voted in favour of Thursday's resolution, despite US redrafting of wording proposed by the country.

The resolution had originally called for "immediate" troop withdrawal, but the US altered this to "without delay" as it wants to see a ceasefire agreed before Israel is expected to pull out.

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

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan
"The road back to the negotiating table will not be easy or smooth"
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"
The BBC's Ian Pannell
"The President has decided to get tough"
See also:

05 Apr 02 | Middle East
Israel deepens West Bank presence
04 Apr 02 | Middle East
Bush intervenes in Mid-East crisis
04 Apr 02 | Middle East
Extracts from Bush's speech
04 Apr 02 | Middle East
Analysis: US policy change carries risks
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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