With Ha'aretz, Reuters, Agencies
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon arrived at Andrews Air Force Base on Sunday ahead of his sixth meeting with U.S. President George Bush on the Middle East. The prime minister will meet with U.S. congressional leaders on Tuesday before heading to London, where he will talk with British Prime Minister Tony Blair. In an opinion piece in the New York Times Sunday, Sharon reiterated that Palestinian attacks must end before there can be serious peace talks to stop the bloodshed in the Middle East. Over the weekend, Bush met with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak at the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland. Sharon's remarks in a New York Times opinion piece came after Bush said he was not ready to set a timetable to establish a Palestinian state despite prodding from Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, with whom Bush met at Camp David in Maryland over the weekend. They also followed two Palestinian raids on Jewish settlements in the West Bank in which three Israelis were killed, and two similar attempted attacks in the Gaza Strip. Israel said it killed seven Palestinian gunmen in the incidents. In Maryland on Saturday, Bush rebuffed Mubarak's call to support a declaration of Palestinian statehood early next year. "We're not ready to lay down a specific calendar, except for the fact that we've got to get started quickly, soon, so that we can seize the moment," Bush told a news conference with Mubarak. Attacks on settlements continue
As U.S. peace efforts intensified, the bloodshed continued. Two Palestinian gunmen killed an Israeli man, his pregnant wife and a soldier in Karmei Tzur settlement in the West Bank in an attack claimed on Sunday by the Muslim militant group Hamas. One of the Palestinians was shot dead, and Israeli forces then raided the nearby Palestinian-ruled town of Halhoul and conducted house-to-house searches for his comrade. Palestinian officials reported one man from the area died but there was no evidence of any connection to the raid. Late on Saturday, a Palestinian gunman attacked Yizhar settlement south of Palestinian-ruled Nablus, wounding four soldiers before being killed by return fire, the army said. The Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine said its military wing carried out the attack in retaliation for Israel's killing of three of its activists. In Gaza, five Palestinians were killed in two separate attempted strikes on Israelis, the Israeli army said. It said one attack was thwarted when a naval patrol killed two armed Palestinians trying to swim ashore to the Dugit settlement. The military wing of Islamic Jihad, a militant group dedicated to Israel's destruction, said the gunmen were its own. Israeli military sources also said the army had found the bodies of three Palestinians at Sufa on the Gaza-Israel border after they tried to plant an explosive device. Palestinian militants have often targeted Jewish settlements during the revolt. The international community views settlements in the occupied territories as illegal. Israel disagrees.
Sharon, Bush sceptical on Arafat's performance
Bush has criticised Arafat's handling of militant violence, and Washington has sought to coax the Palestinian Authority to reform to create conditions for peace negotiations. On Sunday, Palestinian Cabinet Minister Nabil Shaath confirmed to Reuters newspaper reports that Arafat was to name a new cabinet within 48 hours with fewer ministries and a new interior minister. Sharon says Arafat, whom he refuses to meet, is the guiding force behind Palestinian "terrorism".
In his article, Sharon accused the Palestinian leadership of lacking an "elementary commitment to permanently renouncing violence in the resolution of political differences. "It is logical that Israel cannot reach a permanent peace with the Palestinians in isolation. Israel needs peace with the entire Arab world," he wrote. "For this reason, Israel has proposed a regional peace conference with like-minded Middle Eastern states that reject terrorism and seek to enhance regional stability." Bush said there was "plenty of talent" elsewhere among the Palestinians that would emerge "if we develop the institutions necessary for the development of a state."