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U.S. Makes Mideast Statement

Amid fears that Middle East violence has reached a new and dangerous point, the White House Monday dropped what critics called its "hands off" policy on the region and jumped in with both feet, reports CBS News Chief White House Correspondent John Roberts.

Secretary of State Colin Powell accepted the findings of a commission chaired by former U.S. Senator George Mitchell, called for an immediate cease-fire and named an envoy to the region.

"It is clear now more than ever — there can be no military solution … and that negotiation provides the only path to a just lasting and comprehensive peace in the Middle East," Powell said.

Learn more about the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Mitchell warned of an uncontrolled conflict if there was not an immediate and unconditional end to the fighting.

"The culture of peace, nurtured over the previous decade, is being shattered," he said. "In its place, there is a growing sense of futility and despair and a growing resort to violence".

The commission, established as part of a U.S.-brokered cease-fire in October that did not take hold, recommended a series of steps to be taken by both sides and said a cooling off period should begin at once:

  • Israel should freeze construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
  • The Israeli army should use non-lethal responses to unarmed demonstrators.
  • Palestinians should prevent gunmen from using Palestinian areas to fire on Israeli positions.
  • Israelis should lift all closures, transfer tax revenues over to the Palestinians and permit Palestinians to return to their jobs in Israel.
Powell appointed William Burns, who is designated to become assistant secretary of state for the Near East, to implement the report's recommendations.

Palestinians take the body of the latest victim of the violence to the hospital.

Powell's steps were a measured departure from the 4-month-old Bush administration's reluctance to get directly involved in Middle East peacemaking before violence subsided.

The United States has tried to be the host for security talks between Israel and the Palestinians, and brought the CIA back into the effort.

But the administration has not adopted the view of the Clinton administration and of many Arab leaders that negotiations should be conducted even while there is violence.

"At the end of the day i is not something that the U.S. can impose … leaders need to look beyond the passion of the moment and take the action necessary to bring the cycle of violence to an end," Powell said.

But former Middle East envoy Dennis Ross, who brought the two sides to the brink of peace last year, says this White House needs to take a firmer hand to stop the violence.

"I think the American engagement up until this point was not sufficient to transform the situation," Ross said, although he was not optimistic that talks can now begin. "We've lost all semblance of trust between the two sides."

The best Powell might be able to do is reach an interim agreement to stop the bloodshed.

The commission report did not assign blame to either side.

"We are not a tribunal. We complied with the request that we not determine the guilt or innocence of individuals or of the parties," the commission said. The report includes a seven-page response from the Israelis and a ten page Palestinian response.

More Mideast Bloodshed
As Washington praised the report on Mideast violence, the bloodshed continued on the ground, in rocket and tank attacks and gunfire that killed two.
The report determined that a Sept. 28 visit to Jerusalem's Temple Mount by Ariel Sharon, now Israel's prime minister, "did not cause" the current violence. But the report does say the visit was poorly timed and the provocative effect should have been foreseen.

The Palestinians have said the unannounced visit to the Muslim holy site triggered the violence; the Israelis have accused the Palestinians as using the visit as an excuse to riot.

The Palestinians accepted the findings last week and have called on the Bush administration to embrace the report as a basis for resuming peace negotiations.

Israel has said it accepts the report but disagrees with the call for a halt to construction in their settlements in the West Bank and Gaza — areas the Palestinians hope will become part of a future state.

Israel has said it has to accommodate natural population growth in the settlements, home to 200,000 Israelis, and cannot stop building.

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