Bush, Sharon Set To Meet

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon talks to the media during a meeting at his Jerusalem office Sunday, July 13, 2003. Sharon heads to London late Sunday for talks with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and opposition leader Iain Duncan Smith, aimed at repairing strained relations with Britain and pushing forward peace moves with the Palestinians. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
AP
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is in Washington to explore with President Bush the actions Israel wants from the Palestinians to reduce the threat of terror and advance peace prospects.

While Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas complained to Mr. Bush at a meeting on Friday that Israel was grabbing Palestinian land, Sharon was expected to pitch for arrests of terrorists and disarming of Palestinian extremist groups.

Abbas left a long list of demands with the White House, including the release of thousands of Palestinian prisoners and a halt to construction of a security fence meant to separate Israel from Palestinian areas.

Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said the wall is necessary to keep suicide bombers out of Israel.

"We think it prevents the extremists from the ability to destroy the peace process," he said.

Meanwhile, Israeli Arab politicians Tuesday condemned the killing of an Israeli soldier in an Arab-majority area, a day after Israeli soldiers used tear gas and rubber bullets to drive back Palestinian protesters trying to cut through a security fence.

About 200 people — 140 Palestinians and 60 foreign supporters — protested Monday at the security fence 10 miles west of the West Bank town of Jenin.

Several tried to cut or push through the fence, and Israeli soldiers fired rubber bullets and tear gas at them, dispersing the crowd. One of the foreigners was wounded in the leg and was taken to a hospital. There were no arrests.

Michael Tarazi, legal adviser to the Palestine Liberation Organization, said Monday that Mr. Bush had already expressed his opposition to the "wall," and "we hope he is going to do something about it."

On the other hand, Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, said Israel's supporters were worried that the president would put too much pressure on Israel over the fence.

"We are telling the Bush people that they are emphasizing the wrong issue," Klein told The Associated Press. "The fence is not the issue. The issue is Palestinian noncompliance in dismantling terrorist organizations and incitement."

Sharon will try to convince President Bush that Israel's construction of a West Bank security wall is necessary to keep suicide bombers out of the country, reports CBS News Correspondent Robert Berger. As a compromise, Sharon might agree to halt construction, in areas where Israel has confiscated large pieces of West Bank land

"Those extremists cannot have free access to blow up the peace process," Shalom said. But, he added, "We know the concern of our friends, the Americans, and we consider what needs to be done with the fence in the future."

Mr. Bush was apt to take up some of Abbas' grievances with Sharon. In his public remarks during Abbas' visit, however, the president made clear the first goal of the administration was to end terrorism.

"I'm going to tell you point-blank that we must make sure that any terrorist activity is rooted out in order for us to be able to deal with these big issues," the president told Abbas at a joint news conference in the Rose Garden.

Whether this means slowing down the pace of implementing a U.S.-backed so-called road map for peacemaking was unclear.

In preparation for Sharon's visit, Israel made some conciliatory moves.

The White House welcomed on Monday a decision to release hundreds of Palestinian militants in a policy reversal designed to placate Abbas.

And, in another development, Israel removed 10 major West Bank checkpoints and other barriers to Palestinian travel.

A senior Israeli official traveling with Sharon said about 540 prisoners would be released within a week — about 210 from the militant groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad, about the same number from Fatah, headed by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Abbas, and the rest held as criminals.

The perpetrators of the kidnapping and murder of the Israeli soldier, Oleg Shaichat, 20, could be Israeli citizens, reports Berger.

He was killed near several Israeli Arab villages, so police suspect that the perpetrators were Israeli Arabs. About 20 percent of Israel's population is Arab, and while most are loyal to the state, growing numbers have been involved in terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism.

Israeli Arab lawmaker Abdel-Malik Dehamshe, who comes from the area where the soldier's body was found, condemned the killing.

He told the Maariv newspaper that Arab residents "are praying the murderers of Oleg Shaichat did not come from their village. I am certain that if, God forbid, it turns out otherwise, that we will all denounce the murderers."