Wed, Jul 30, 2003 - Page 6 News List

Sharon presents his case to Bush

AP , WASHINGTON

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is exploring with US President George W. 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 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.

Michael Tarazi, legal adviser to the Palestine Liberation Organization, said Monday that 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 Bush would put too much pressure on Israel over the fence.

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

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 US-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.

On a visit to Washington last week, Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom dropped hints that while the security fence project would not be abandoned, it might be revised.

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

In any event, while welcoming the planned release of prisoners, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said: "No one should want anyone released that had blood on their hands." The comment echoed remarks by Bush that he would never ask the leader of any government to release people involved in terror.

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.

In Jerusalem, Israeli ministers voted 14 to 9 to authorize the release. The decision reversed government resistance to freeing members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which Israel and the Bush administration condemn as terrorist organizations.

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