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Palestinians Hope For 'New Beginning' With Powell Visit

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Palestinians Hope For 'New Beginning' With Powell Visit

Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - The Palestinians hope the visit of Secretary of State Colin Powell this weekend will present an opportunity for Israelis and Palestinians to mark a "new beginning," a senior Palestinian official said on Friday.

But Israel said it is not willing to make any moves towards the Palestinians that would endanger its own citizens.

Powell is due to arrive in Israel on Saturday evening for talks with Israeli and Palestinian officials on the implementation U.S.-sponsored "road map," which outlines a plan for establishing a Palestinian state and aims to bring an end to the long Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

He will meet first with Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom and Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz; and then with Palestinian officials, including new Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas and Parliament Speaker Ahmed Qureia.

PA Minister Saeb Erekat, who has been a top Palestinian negotiator with Israel for years, will be among those in the Palestinian delegation meeting with Powell. He hailed the Powell visit and the "road map" as the opportunity for a "new beginning."

"I really hope that the secretary will help the Palestinians and the Israelis in kicking [in] the implementation of the road map," Erekat said in a telephone interview.

"[The Palestinians] fully accepted the road map. So far we don't have an official Israeli response," Erekat said, adding that he hoped Powell's visit would prompt a reply from Israel.

Israel has a number of reservations about the road map. Israel insists that the Palestinians begin to fight terrorism and destroy the terrorist infrastructure before Israel makes any concessions.

According to Erekat, the road map calls for simultaneous communiques issued publicly by both sides recognizing the other's right to exist and denouncing violence.

The Palestinians "fully respect our obligations emanating from the 'road map'" including security obligations, Erekat said. But he said one of the first components of the road map is an immediate resumption of security cooperation between Israel and the Palestinians.

The road map presents a "real chance" for Palestinians and Israelis to break the cycle of violence, he said.

The first phase of the road map calls for a halt to Palestinian terrorism and violence as well as an Israeli military pullout from Palestinian areas Israel has occupied during the last two years as part of its effort to curb terrorism.

Abbas has denounced terrorism, but militant groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad have vowed to keep up attacks and the al Aksa Martyrs Brigades, linked to PA Chairman Yasser Arafat's Fatah faction, also has claimed responsibility for recent attacks.

Five Qassam rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip early Friday. Two of them landed in the Israeli town of Sderot, lightly injuring a mother and her daughter.

The attack followed Israel's targeted killing of a top Hamas militant on Thursday. The dead man, linked to al Qaeda, was accused of planning a series of suicide bomb attacks that were to take place in Israel in the near future.

Sharon's spokesman, Dr. Ra'anan Gissin, said that while Israel is ready to begin implementing the "road map," the first step is for the Palestinians to begin fighting terrorism.

"We're ready to start immediately the implementation [of the road map]," Gissin said in a telephone interview. But the Palestinians must make "real concrete steps" to fight terrorism similar to the demands that America is making of Syria, he added.

Powell met with Syrian President Bashar Assad in Damascus last weekend. Among other things, he demanded that Syria close down the offices of some 10 to 12 terrorist organizations headquartered in the capital, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and terminate direct and indirect assistance to Hizballah in southern Lebanon.

Without similar efforts, Israel won't withdraw its forces from Palestinian cities, although Israel would be willing to consider other gestures, such as extending a package of humanitarian aid.

Israel is not willing to take any measures that could result in a major suicide attack, Gissin said, unless someone on the Palestinian side is taking control. "The important thing is they have to take those steps," he said.

"There are 40-50 alerts [of pending terror attacks] and they're increasing," he said. "It's a repeat story [for the last two years]. Every time there is a visit by a U.S. official...there is an upsurge of terrorist activity," Gissin said.

The prime minister is not willing to make any moves that would allow such attacks to take place, not only because of the casualties, which Israel wants to prevent above all, but also because a major suicide attack would set back the process, he added.

Gissin declined to elaborate on what confidence-building measures Israel might be willing to take, but he said Sharon would discuss them with Powell on Sunday. Israel is willing to do "everything that is not going to put in jeopardy the life of Israeli citizens," he said.

A front-page picture of Powell in Friday's Jerusalem Post showed the Secretary of State with his hands clasped together and his head and eyes tilted upward, seemingly in a plea. The caption suggested that he "might be praying for the success of his visit here."

Sharon is scheduled to travel to Washington in about 10 days to discuss the road map with President Bush and other administration officials. It will be his eighth visit to the White House since taking office.

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the palestinians have never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity, hope they dont screw it up this time, lets see how low/hi death toll will be among the palestinians themselves over this road map.

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