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Bush: "Sharon is a Man of Peace"


President Bush on Thursday called Prime Minister Ariel Sharon "a man of peace," adding "I am certain Israel wants to exist in peace with its neighbor." The president expressed satisfaction with the staged IDF troop withdrawal from PA autonomous areas, explaining that Sharon was keeping to the schedule presented to the White House.

Gunfire, Explosions Near Church of the Nativity

By VOA News

Gunfire and explosions have been heard near Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity, where Israeli troops are keeping Palestinian gunmen inside under siege. Media reports said the blasts came from stun grenades, and that there were signs of a fire near the Christian holy site. There has been no word on casualties. Earlier Thursday, a meeting to negotiate an end to the 16-day standoff was canceled.

Meanwhile, Israel said it arrested a military leader of the radical Islamic Hamas movement, Hossam Badran. Israel Radio said three other Palestinians were killed as Israeli troops captured Badran in the northern West Bank Thursday. It said Israeli helicopters had spotted the suspected terrorist traveling by car.

At the United Nations, Secretary-General Kofi Annan repeated his call for Israel to accept deployment of a large armed international force in the West Bank to help end escalating Israeli-Palestinian violence. Speaking to a closed session of the Security Council, Annan appealed to the international community to quickly send the force to end what he called "the tragic and terrifying descent into bloodletting" that is gripping the West Bank.

But Annan, who elaborated on last week's proposal international armed presence in the region, said an international force could only succeed if Israelis and Palestinians commit to a peace process. Israel has rejected previous calls for such a force.

The proposal is now before the Security Council. The Secretary-General wants the Council to authorize it under a section of the U.N. Charter that would permit the force to be sufficiently armed and take enforcement action if necessary.

Bush Satisfied With Israeli Withdrawal Timetable

By Paula Wolfson (VOA-Washington)

President Bush said Israel is living up to its promised timetable for withdrawal from Palestinian areas in the West Bank. But at the same time, he said, Yasir Arafat must match his condemnation of terrorism with action.

Bush originally called almost two weeks ago for a total Israeli withdrawal without delay. Israel responded with its own timetable for a phased pullout. The president is trying to put that turn of events in the best possible light, saying the withdrawals are continuing. "History will show that they have responded," the president said. " And, as the prime minister said, he gave me a timetable, and he has met the timetable."

Bush said he still wants to see a complete withdrawal, but that he understands there are extraordinary circumstances in Ramallah and Bethlehem.

In Ramallah, Israel said, five men wanted in the death of an Israeli Cabinet minister have taken refuge in Arafat's headquarters.

Bush said Israel appears to be meeting its responsibilities. He says he is still waiting for action from the Palestinian leader. "Mr. Arafat did condemn terror. And now, we will hold him to account," Bush said.

The president spoke at the start of a meeting with Secretary of State Colin Powell, who just completed a mission to the region. Bush said Powell made progress, although he failed to achieve a ceasefire.

"The situation prior to the secretary's arrival was at a boiling point. And, thanks to his hard work, he has laid out not only a vision of hope, which is important, but has convinced others that these terrorist acts will forever and constantly undermine the capacity for peace."

It is unclear what the Bush administration will do next to try to ease the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer downplayed the notion that Powell would return quickly to the region. But he stressed the United States would remain engaged, and is pushing the goals laid out by the president in early April.

Ze'evi's Son Explains Transfer Idea


Palmach Ze'evi, son of PA-terrorism victim Tourism Minister Rehavam Ze'evi, is running against Benny Elon for the leadership of the Moledet party. The party was founded by the late Ze'evi, who was murdered in Jerusalem six months ago.

Speaking at an Independence Day celebration in Beit El this week, Palmach explained bitingly why transfer is the only solution to the present conflict:

"The various parties propose different solutions to the Israeli-Arab conflict. Most of them don't even manage to remain faithful to their proposal for even one term [four years] before they change it. Even our brothers in the NRP have a proposal: autonomy, they call it, autonomy for the Arabs of Judea, Samaria, and Gaza. I ask you: Is it conceivable that we could keep three million Arabs, without the right to vote and without national identity? And when they grow and become five or seven million, who will be able to control this boiling pot when they will one day demand national independence?

"The only way that will solve this problem from the very roots is that of Moledet. Two nations cannot live on this Promised Land; one of them will have to give up its place, totally, in favor of the other; otherwise, we are inviting a perpetual bloodbath. The establishment of the State 54 years ago seemed then to be even less practical and realistic than the transfer idea seems now: a small unarmed people against all the Arab nations and armies. But, we did it anyway."

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