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Mubarak Tries His Luck

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak travels to Camp David Friday, with an urgent appeal to President Bush for the U.S. to set a timetable for the establishment of a Palestinian state and an end to Israel's hold on the West Bank and Gaza.

U.S. officials say President Bush plans to listen closely and assure Mubarak he does intend to set guidelines for Mideast peacemaking.

The Egyptian leader's visit to Camp David, which will extend into Saturday, is part of a flurry of diplomacy, including a meeting Monday between President Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

At this point, a senior U.S. official said, the focus of U.S. diplomacy is on instilling democracy in the Palestinian Authority while helping to build the state President Bush has previously endorsed.

Before traveling to Camp David Friday evening, Mubarak will meet in Washington with Secretary of State Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, the president's assistant for national security.

Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said a key part of a new U.S. peace formula would be a settlements-for-refugees trade. "There is something new emerging in the U.S. which says that the Palestinians will give up on the right of return (of refugees and their descendants to their original homes in Israel) in exchange for Israel giving up on all the settlements" in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The Bush administration hasn't commented directly on Peres' statement but U.S. officials speaking on condition of anonymity say suggestions may be made, but there will be no "American plan" for an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

Mubarak met Thursday with Vice President Dick Cheney as well as delegations from the House and Senate, including Rep. Tom Lantos, who suggested that Mubarak try to break the stalemate between Israel and the Arabs with a visit to Jerusalem.

In 1977, Mubarak's predecessor, the late Anwar Sadat, flew to Jerusalem in a dramatic gesture that resulted in a peace treaty with Israel two years later.

Thursday, inspecting rubble from a six-hour Israeli siege of his headquarters for the second time in a month, Palestinian President Yasser Arafat ridiculed suggestions that Israel might exile him because of unrelenting Palestinian terror attacks.

"Expel me?" he laughed. "I will die here."

An Israeli teen-ager was shot and killed Thursday in a roadside West Bank ambush as Israelis were burying the dead from Wednesday's suicide bomb in Megiddo which killed 17 Israelis, most of them young soldiers.

Also Thursday, Israeli forces entered Beituniya, a suburb of Ramallah, and arrested six men, including the local leader of the radical Hamas group's military wing.

Israeli forces patrolled along the southern edge of Bethlehem early Friday but did not enter the town.

The daily violence and counterstrikes also threatened to undermine new U.S. efforts to bring an end to more than 20 months of fighting. In the past week, two top-level U.S. officials have visited for talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

The Palestinian Authority, headed by Arafat, denounced the Wednesday's suicide bombing and ordered the arrest of Islamic Jihad activists. But the group's leader, Abdullah Shami, remains at his home in Gaza. Palestinian security officials say they cannot carry out the arrest order because Palestinian prisons have been destroyed by Israeli air strikes.

A founder of Islamic Jihad, Sheikh Nafez Azzam, is vowing that the suicide bombings will continue. "Resistance, including martyrdom, is the sole choice to regain our rights," said Azzam.

Islamic Jihad is based in Syria and that fact spurred Israel Thursday to send a letter to the U.N. Security Council, protesting Syria's presidency of the council and its "support to the terrorist groups in its territory."

After the raid on Arafat's compound early Thursday, the Israeli military issued a statement saying Arafat is responsible for "a wave of Palestinian terrorism that has swept the state of Israel" and pledged military operations aimed at rooting it out.

However, the almost nightly raids on Palestinian areas were not enough for many Israelis, including some Cabinet ministers who clamored for Israel to expel Arafat.

Finance Minister Silvan Shalom, from Sharon's Likud party, told Israel TV that soon a majority of Israel's Cabinet will support expelling Arafat. "When I first proposed it, they thought I was eccentric," he said.

Israeli newspapers carried front-page pictures of the charred, twisted remains of the bus and snapshots of the victims. In an editorial, the mass-circulation Maariv wrote that the bus bombing "needs to bring us very close to a decision to rid the region of Arafat's presence."

However, Sharon adviser Raanan Gissin said that for now, Arafat's ouster was not being contemplated. "His expulsion would not solve the problem. The security services do not recommend this as the most effective solution," he said.

White House spokesman Sean McCormack agreed. "I don't think exiling Arafat solves anything," he said.

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