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Friday, 5 April, 2002, 21:30 GMT 22:30 UK
Press probes Bush initiative
US President George Bush and Colin Powell
President Bush delivers Middle East speech
The contents of President George W Bush's speech on the Middle East came too late for many of Friday's newspapers in the region, but some were quick to give their view of the significance of the latest US moves.

Israeli press commentators focused on the implications of President Bush's speech for Israel's military operations in the West Bank.

An article in the Hebrew-language paper, Yediot Aharonot, said Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's associates "believe that the Americans are leaving a window of time for the Israel Defence Force of a week to 10 days".

The writer said the estimate was based on the fact that Mr Powell would not be coming to the region before 10 April and will first visit Cairo, Riyadh and Amman "in an attempt to calm the stormy mood of those countries' leaders".

"Ticking stopwatch"

Bitter experience teaches that this is again one step forward, two steps back, another distraction until the next terror attack and the continuation of the war

An analysis in the second largest Hebrew paper, Ma'ariv, said, however, that what it called "slow-sinking sands in the hourglass" of Israel's military operation in the Palestinian areas had been "replaced by a ticking stopwatch".

The paper wrote that, until Thursday this week, the Israeli Government had believed that Israel had all the time in the world to complete its "big battle against Palestinian terrorism, while Yasser Arafat had told his aides that it would last only a few days".

"In timetables, it appears, Arafat has the better understanding."

"One step forward"

Both Bush and Powell embody total bias towards Israel

Ma'ariv said the US initiative and forthcoming meetings with Mr Arafat would put an end to the attempt to "isolate" the Palestinian leader "and the Palestinians will certainly see it as a victory".

"Bitter experience teaches that this is again one step forward, two steps back, another distraction until the next terror attack and the continuation of the war," it commented.

Another Yediot Aharonot analyst wrote that Mr Sharon had responded to Mr Bush's statement "with carefully contained fury" but added that "Israel cannot afford to refuse ... America is its only supporter. If America moves aside, Israel will become the world's leper."

US role under fire

The Jerusalem-based Palestinian newspaper Al-Quds was dismissive of the US initiative.

This subdued American U-turn would not have been achieved had it not been for the general Arab solidarity

"After the statements made by the US president ... it has become clear to the world that the US is no longer the fair or objective mediator needed for a settlement of the conflict because both Bush and Powell embody total bias towards Israel," the paper said.

For Jordan's Al-Ra'y, Mr Powell's visit to the region constituted a significant development, but it warned that the US role would be effective only if it was fair and just and conformed with international resolutions.

US "U-turn"

In the Gulf, the Emirates-based Al-Bayan said Washington had been forced to change tack when it became apparent that Arab discontent was threatening its interests.

"This subdued American U-turn would not have been achieved had it not been for the general Arab solidarity," the paper said.

An editorial in the Jedda-based English-language Arab News said, however, that President Bush's speech and the Powell mission did "not seem to be anything more than a fig leaf to disguise American inaction".

The US move "goes nowhere near far enough to ending the conflict," it said.

Another article in the same paper said President Bush's appeal to Mr Sharon to halt the violence and return to the negotiating table "lacks the force of conviction that one would have expected from the US president, especially when Israel, its protege, has been guilty of heinous crimes against humanity".

The US move was seen "more as a public relations exercise than as a serious attempt to halt Israeli aggression against the Palestinians", it said.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

See also:

05 Apr 02 | Middle East
US envoy breaks Arafat isolation
07 Apr 02 | Middle East
Israel deepens West Bank presence
04 Apr 02 | Middle East
Bush intervenes in Mid-East crisis
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