Israel Nabs Palestinian Suspects, Peace Plan Lags (REUTERS) By Dan Williams JERUSALEM, ISRAEL 12/14/02 06:53 PM ET)
Reuters News Service
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JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli forces detained at least 14
Palestinians in the West Bank on Saturday in a new sweep for
militants as international peace efforts looked likely to be eclipsed
by wider Middle East developments.
An Israeli army spokesman said 12 "terror suspects" were seized
overnight around Ramallah, political base of Palestinian President
Yasser Arafat, and two in the Bethlehem area. Troops continued
scouring the city after daybreak.
On Saturday night, the Israeli army killed a Palestinian at the Gaza
Strip´s flashpoint border with Egypt.
Israeli military sources said forces opened fire at Palestinian
gunmen approaching them near the frontier town of Rafah around
midnight and that one of them was hit. Palestinian security officials
said Israel had handed over a man´s body from the scene.
On Friday, the army killed two militants in the West Bank. Hamas, an
Islamic group sworn to Israel´s destruction which has spearheaded
suicide bombings in a more than two-year-old Palestinian independence
uprising, issued new calls for revenge.
A "quartet" of Middle East mediators was due to meet next week in
Washington on a peace plan initiated more that six months ago.
But diplomats said it was unlikely the so-called road map for three-
stage rapprochement between Israel and the Palestinians, culminating
in security for the former and statehood for the latter, would be
completed as scheduled on December 20.
"The signal the United States is sending us is that you should not
expect a completed road map. Our side is arguing back on that," a
European diplomat said on Friday.
The mediators -- the United States, the European Union, Russia and
the United Nations -- broadly agree on what the plan should include
but disagree on when to release it.
Israelis and Palestinians disagree on the fundamental question of how
specific the plan should be.
ISRAEL ELECTIONS, IRAQ WAR TAKE PRECEDENCE
Israeli general elections are scheduled for January 28.
"Washington has made it clear that no final plan will be presented
before the new government is in power," an official in Prime Minister
Ariel Sharon´s office said. "Of course, that new government will then
have to approve the plan."
A Palestinian official said that demonstrated the United States was
again acting as Israel´s guardian ally.
"This shows that the American policy intervenes only for the good of
Sharon, not for the good of the peace process," Palestinian official
Saeb Erekat told Reuters.
But most in the region believe the road map will go nowhere until the
Iraq issue is resolved. The United States has demanded Baghdad give
up its alleged weapons of mass destruction voluntarily or face
military action to disarm it.
Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz was to leave on Saturday night
for a week of high-level talks in New York and Washington, the
official in Sharon´s office said.
Mofaz was due to meet Secretary of State Colin Powell, who in a
Washington policy speech on Thursday blamed the Middle East stalemate
on Palestinian "terror."
Washington backs Israel´s stance that Arafat bears responsibility for
suicide bombings and other militant attacks, and has called for new
Palestinian leaders to be elected.
Arafat denies culpability and says Israeli countermeasures in the
territories have undermined his security forces´ capabilities. On
Saturday, he hinted that his continued popularity would be proven at
a Palestinian ballot tentatively scheduled for January 20.
"Palestinian people will decide the new Palestinian leadership in the
coming elections," Arafat told reporters at his battered Ramallah
headquarters on Saturday.
At least 1,720 Palestinians and 670 Israelis have died in the
violence which erupted in September 2000, after peace talks stalled.
(© Reuters 2002 12/14/02)
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