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Tuesday, 6 August, 2002, 23:55 GMT 00:55 UK
Powell to meet senior Palestinians
A bus blown up by a suicide bomber in the Arab Israeli town of Um el Fahm
Palestinian militants were behind a string of recent attacks
The US has said a senior Palestinian team will meet top US officials later this week - the first high-level talks since Washington sidelined Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in June.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat
Arafat has been de facto isolated by the US

"We do expect that a delegation of Palestinians will be in Washington for meetings with Secretary [of State] Colin Powell and a range of other officials on Thursday and Friday," State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said.

He said the Palestinian delegation - headed by cabinet minister Saeb Erekat - would also meet US National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice to "exchange views on a wide range of issues, including a renewal of security co-operation".

The talks come only days after a string of deadly Palestinian attacks on Israeli targets that left 13 people dead, and an Israeli travel ban on Palestinians in the West Bank.

'Security and reforms'

In June, President George W Bush said he had no plans to talk to Mr Arafat, whom Washington blames for failing to stop Palestinian suicide bombings.

US President George W Bush (left) and US Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld
Rumsfeld (right) apparently questioned Bush's stance on Israeli occupation

President Bush also made clear that substantive reforms must be carried by the Palestinian Authority before the US would support the creation of a Palestinian state.

But US Secretary of State Colin Powell has said that Mr Arafat can "empower" Palestinians to represent his interests during the talks.

"As the secretary and the president made quite clear, it's absolutely important the Palestinians do all they can to end the terror and violence," Mr Reeker said.

Experts say the US is keen to persuade Israel that a reformed Palestinian security force can foil future militant attacks.

Washington hopes that this could in turn lead to Israeli withdrawal from the occupied Palestinian towns in the West Bank.

Rumsfeld's jibe

But, the Bush administration's stance was questioned by the US Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld who on Tuesday referred to the West Bank as "so-called occupied territory".

During a Pentagon briefing session, Mr Rumsfeld said the Palestinian Authority had been involved with terrorist activities despite pledges to strengthen security.

He also declined to call on Israel to abandon Jewish settlements which are illegal under international law.

"My feelings about the so-called occupied territories are that there was a war," he said referring to the 1967 war between Israel and several Arab countries.

"Israel urged neighbouring countries not to get involved in it once it started. They all jumped and they lost a lot of real estate to Israel because Israel prevailed in the conflict."

On Monday, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution demanding the immediate withdrawal of Israeli forces to the positions held before September 2000 - when the current Palestinian intifada began.


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