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Tuesday, 14 May, 2002, 10:22 GMT 11:22 UK
US backs Palestinian state
Arafat waves to supporters in Jenin town
Yasser Arafat has been touring the West Bank
US Secretary of State Colin Powell has reiterated America's support for the eventual creation of a Palestinian state.

This follows a decision by the dominant party in the Israeli Government, the Likud, that it would forever oppose such a state.

The Palestinian people deserve to have a state in which they can live in peace

US National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice
Mr Powell said he had spoken to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and received an assurance that Mr Sharon was committed to the notion of a Palestinian state.

The Likud vote against a Palestinian state was widely seen as a defeat for Mr Sharon, and a victory for the likely challenger for the Likud leadership, Binyamin Netanyahu.

A defiant Mr Sharon has told Likud Party members he will run the country's affairs as he saw fit. He is scheduled to address a session of the Israeli parliament on Tuesday.

Israelis back Palestinian state

Despite Mr Sharon's defeat at the hands of his own party, a poll published in a leading Israeli daily newspaper shows strong backing for the prime minister and suggests that six in 10 Israelis are in favour of a Palestinian state.

Poll of Israelis
55% back Sharon
23% back Netanyahu
63% were in favour of Palestinian state, 34% against

Source: Yediot Aharonot
According to the poll, carried out for the Yediot Aharonot newspaper, 68% of those polled and 64% of Likud supporters believed that the decision on backing a Palestinian state should have been postponed as Mr Sharon had proposed.

Asked who they would like to see as Likud's candidate for prime minister in the elections in November 2003, 55% opted for Sharon and 23% for Binyamin Netanyahu. Among Likud voters, the figures were almost identical.

Asked whether Israel should accept a Palestinian state in a final peace deal, 63% were in favour and 34% against.

Fresh violence

Yasser Arafat on Monday assured Palestinians they would have an independent state with or without the agreement of Israel as he ended a tour of three West Bank towns.

Ariel Sharon
The Likud vote may not have been a big setback for Sharon
In fresh violence on Tuesday, two Palestinians were killed when Israeli forces entered the West Bank village of Halhoul, north of Hebron, and two small villages near Tulkarm.

The Israeli army said the aim of the operations was to arrest suspected militants. Thirteen Palestinians were detained.

'Vital for peace'

Mr Powell, en route to a Nato meeting in Brussels, said the Likud vote did not have any bearing on the White House position.

"The prime minister and I discussed the decision made by the Likud committee and he reaffirmed to me that he remains committed to... that vision that I think most people have of a Palestinian state," he said.

National security adviser Condoleezza Rice said President Bush believed the creation of a Palestinian state was needed to bring peace to the Middle East.

"Our view is quite clear. There is only one way to bring peace ultimately to the region and that is to have two states - Israel and Palestine - living side by side in a secure environment," she said.

But, she said that to get that state, Mr Arafat's Palestinian Authority needed to create a "unified security apparatus" to fight corruption and sever links with terrorism.

Voices from the Conflict

At the moment I take home half the salary I did before the intifada, but I'm better off than many

Mahmoud Shahin, Palestinian from Bethlehem

  Read his story

The US comments coincided with a visit to Washington by King Abdullah of Jordan.

He described the Middle East peace process as a "train wreck" and endorsed the idea of new negotiations in the form of a regional conference, a proposal first put forward by Mr Sharon.

King Abdullah urged the US to take the lead in any peace negotiations.

'Destruction of Oslo'

Mr Arafat said that Likud's rejection of statehood amounted to the destruction of the Oslo peace accords.

He was venturing outside Ramallah for the first time in five months after Israel lifted its siege of his headquarters on 2 May.

Crowds turned out to meet the Palestinian leader on Monday but a planned visit to the Jenin refugee camp had to be cancelled amid fears for his security.

"I'm very angry and very disappointed because Arafat did not visit the camp," Mohammed Abu Ghalyoun, a 43-year-old unemployed labourer in Jenin, told the Associated Press.

"If he isn't interested in us, we are not interested in him. We can endure our burdens without him."

See also:

13 May 02 | Middle East
Palestinians land on friendly ground
13 May 02 | Middle East
In pictures: Arafat's tour
12 May 02 | Middle East
Likud embarrasses Sharon
13 May 02 | Middle East
Likud vote challenges Bush policy
13 May 02 | Middle East
Sharon's defeat dominates Israeli press
12 May 02 | Middle East
Israel sends Gaza reservists home
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