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Monday, 15 April, 2002, 18:05 GMT 19:05 UK
Powell: Arafat not needed at talks
Lebanese protest against Colin Powell's visit
Powell's visit comes amid a rising tide of anger
US Secretary of State Colin Powell has said Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat would not need to attend a mooted Middle East peace conference.

The [peace] conference in and of itself isn't the solution, but it's a way to get the parties together and talking

Colin Powell
Mr Powell told reporters Mr Arafat "has the ability to empower people in the Palestinian movement to represent him. The conference does not necessarily require his personal presence to get started."

The secretary of state was speaking after arriving back in Israel following brief meetings with Lebanese and Syrian leaders.

"We've got to move quickly to a political track," said Mr Powell, who arrived in the region last week to try to produce a ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinians.

"The [peace] conference in and of itself isn't the solution, but it's a way to get the parties together and talking," he said.

The idea of a peace conference - excluding Mr Arafat - was suggested by Mr Sharon at a meeting with Mr Powell on Sunday night.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said the secretary of state, who held talks with Mr Arafat at his besieged Ramallah compound on Sunday, might meet the Palestinian leader again on Tuesday.

Syria rounds on Israel

Mr Powell held 90 minutes of talks with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose country is the main power broker in Lebanon where Hezbollah guerrillas have been firing across a disputed border into Israel.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad
Al-Assad blamed Israel for Palestinian suicide attacks

The official Syrian news agency, SANA, said the Syrian leader told Mr Powell Palestinian suicide bombings were "a result of Israeli practices".

President al-Assad said it would be "better to eradicate the causes [of suicide bombings] rather than waste time condemning them", SANA reported.

Israel launched its military action in the West Bank after a wave of suicide bombers from Palestinian-ruled areas killed and injured scores of Israelis.

Mr al-Assad said the United States needed to spell out a "clear vision" of peace and called for the implementation of "resolutions agreed upon by the international community".

Mr Powell did not comment following the meeting.

Earlier, the secretary of state said he had warned the Lebanese leadership in talks in Beirut of a "very real danger of the situation along the border [with Israel] widening the conflict throughout the region".

Lebanese ministers said they would not stop the attacks, although they would try to restrict them to the disputed area called Shebaa Farms.

The BBC's Matt Frei
"Hezbollah has re-opened an old front against Israel to help the embattled Palestinians"
Daniel Seaman, spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister
"The main objective for this operation was to provide security for the public and state of Israel"
Mayor of Bethlehem, Hanna Jamil Nasser
"This is the most brutal incursion the city has faced"
See also:

15 Apr 02 | Middle East
Q&A: Middle East peace conference
15 Apr 02 | Middle East
Gunfire erupts near Bethlehem church
15 Apr 02 | Middle East
Jenin camp situation 'horrendous'
15 Apr 02 | Middle East
UN rights body condemns Israel
13 Apr 02 | Middle East
Arafat's statement on terrorism
14 Apr 02 | Middle East
Palestinians reject Bethlehem deal
15 Apr 02 | Middle East
EU ministers reject Israel sanctions
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