Tags: Bush | Slams | Arafat | Says | Israel | Must | End

Bush Slams Arafat, Says Israel Must End 'Occupation'

Thursday, 02 May 2002 12:00 AM

"Yasser Arafat is now free to leave his compound ... free to travel. And with that freedom comes a responsibility to show the world ... that he meant what he said about renouncing terrorism and ending violence as a way of settling political disputes," White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said during his afternoon briefing with reporters.

"Freedom means freedom to prove that he can lead and that he will take responsible actions to help bring peace to the region. The president is watching."

Speaking in the White House East Room together with Spanish Prime Minister Jose-Maria Aznar and European Commission President Romano Prodi, Bush was strongly critical of Arafat, who he said had "just been disappointing." Spain has the rotating presidency of the European Union, with Prodi as the organization's chief executive.

"A week ago Yasser Arafat was boarded up in his building," Bush said. "He's now free to show leadership, to lead the world." Bush said the United States and the European Union shared a desire to see "Palestine and Israel living side by side, in peace and security." But he said Arafat had to play his part in resuming peace efforts.

"He had a chance to grab peace and hasn't done so in the past, and therefore he's let the Palestinian people down. Now's his chance to show he can lead," Bush said.

Israel must negotiate an end to its "occupation" of Palestinian areas in the West Bank, the president said.

"A Palestinian state must be achieved by negotiating an end to occupation, but such a state cannot be based on a foundation of terror or corruption."

European sources said after the meeting Aznar and Prodi had told Bush the European Union favored convening an international conference on the Middle East as soon as possible. Prodi later told United Press International he believed an international conference was "necessary."

During Thursday's White House briefing Fleischer called the conference "an interesting idea that remains at the idea stage."

Later Thursday, Secretary of State Colin Powell announced the United States, together with the United Nations, Russia and the European Union - a grouping known as the Quartet - intended to host a comprehensive Middle East Peace Conference sometime this summer.

Prodi said he had stressed to Bush the need for urgent action because the violence had caused widespread suffering. "We must act quickly," Prodi declared.

Aznar pointed out to reporters that he would have further discussions on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict this weekend when he and his wife Ana will be guests of the Bushes at the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland.

The leaders' comments came after Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon ordered the withdrawal of his military forces from positions outside Arafat's compound where he had been confined since March 29. The Israeli action, which extended to key West Bank towns and villages, came after a series of attacks by Palestinian militants on Israeli targets, including civilians.

The withdrawal came after a U.S.-brokered deal that allowed six men to be transferred from Arafat's headquarters to a Palestinian prison in Jericho where they would be guarded by U.S. and British personnel. A Palestinian military court found four of the men guilty of killing Israeli Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi. Israel said the fifth man was also involved in the death, and the sixth prisoner was wanted by Israel for arms smuggling.

Early Thursday, Arafat emerged shaking, angry and still defiant. Visiting a makeshift mass grave outside Ramallah Hospital that bore the remains of Palestinians killed during the Israeli occupation, he vowed that the fight for independence would continue.

Copyright 2002 by United Press International.

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Yasser Arafat is now free to leave his compound... free to travel. And with that freedom comes a responsibility to show the world ... that he meant what he said about renouncing terrorism and ending violence as a way of settling political disputes, White House Press...
Thursday, 02 May 2002 12:00 AM
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