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Wednesday, 17 April, 2002, 21:37 GMT 22:37 UK
Mid-East truce eludes Powell
Yasser Arafat (left) and Colin Powell
Arafat remains isolated, surrounded by Israeli troops
US Secretary of State Colin Powell has ended a 10-day Middle East peace mission without clinching a ceasefire or securing a full Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian areas.

Speaking after talks in Ramallah with the besieged Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, Mr Powell said a "ceasefire" was "not a relevant term at the moment - it will become relevant when the incursion ends and the withdrawals are completed".

Mr Powell said the withdrawal from the West Bank was proceeding more slowly than he wanted, but Israel had given him a "timeline" and he had been "assured of results in the next few days".


Israel assumes the whole responsibility for Powell's failure

Palestinian leadership
Mr Powell urged Israel and the Palestinians to resume security co-operation and said he would return to the region to "continue to advance things," but gave no date.

He told reporters he had made it clear to Mr Arafat that the world was looking for him to act against "terrorism" and make a "strategic choice" by embracing the peace process.

US President George Bush said Mr Powell had made "made progress towards peace" during his visit.

'Mission is failure'

The Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation's executive committee later issued a statement branding Mr Powell's visit a "failure".

"Israel assumes the whole responsibility for Powell's failure to obtain an immediate (Israeli) pull-out from all the towns and areas that were entered," it read.

"Israel is also responsible for all that happens at the seat of the president (in Ramallah) and the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem."


  Click here to see town-by-town update

The leadership also called for the UN Security Council to meet and for the international community to condemn Israel's continuing military occupation.

Mr Powell has now arrived in Egypt, where he will meet Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher after scheduled talks with President Hosni Mubarak were cancelled.

The US secretary of state said he understood Mr Mubarak was "indisposed" to the meeting.

Mr Powell said his talks with leaders in the region had confirmed widespread support for a comprehensive approach to reaching a settlement and all parties should work to achieve that.

US special envoy Anthony Zinni and other senior US diplomats will work with Israel and the Palestinians to try to restart peace talks, Mr Powell said.

CIA chief George Tenet - who drew up a ceasefire plan - is also ready to return to the region, he added.

Conditions

Palestinian officials say there will be no deal or truce until Israel makes a full withdrawal from all the West Bank areas it has occupied.

Church of the Nativity
The two-week-old church siege in Bethlehem continues
But Washington has called on the Palestinians to halt "terrorism" immediately or risk losing millions of dollars in aid.

The Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, has pledged to pull troops out of Jenin and Nablus within a week. But they will stay in Bethlehem and Ramallah until Palestinian "terrorists" there surrender, he said.

After a final round of talks with Mr Powell on Tuesday, Mr Sharon indicated that he might drop objections to Mr Arafat attending an international Middle East peace conference.

One of Mr Arafat's top aides, Saeb Erekat, warned that the situation was worse than a week ago, with the Israelis "deepening the reoccupation".

"I don't know if we have a Palestinian Authority any more," he said. "All we can say is Sharon did a good job to torpedo the secretary's mission here."

Palestinian casualties

In Bethlehem, witnesses told the French news agency AFP that a Palestinian had been shot and wounded inside the compound of the Church of the Nativity.

The town's mayor said negotiations were continuing to end the two week siege at the historic church.

In the city of Nablus, hospital records show that 71 Palestinians have been killed there since the Israeli army entered in force on 3 April.

A Reuters correspondent there saw a mortuary overflowing with corpses - including 25 piled in a refrigerated dairy truck.

Reuters reported that around 30 tanks were seen leaving the West Bank city of Jenin and the devastated nearby refugee camp, although it was not clear whether they were pulling out or being redeployed.

Red Cross teams and Israeli troops are continuing the search for the bodies of Palestinians killed in heavy fighting there.

But the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) accused the Israeli army of blocking rescue workers and earth-moving equipment from the area, where it thought survivors may still be trapped under rubble, AFP reported.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's John Simpson
"This has only turned out to be round one of a longer contest"
EU External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten
"Mr Sharon must get out now"
Dore Gold, advisor to Ariel Sharon
"We did not want Colin Powell to go away empty-handed"
See also:

17 Apr 02 | Middle East
Analysis: US drawn into Mid-East chaos
17 Apr 02 | Middle East
Analysis: 'War crimes' on West Bank
16 Apr 02 | Middle East
Arafat aide chides Arab leaders
16 Apr 02 | Middle East
Eyewitness: Inside ruined Jenin
16 Apr 02 | Middle East
Powell makes final ceasefire push
17 Apr 02 | Middle East
US puts funding pressure on Arafat
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