Arab leaders vow fight on terror

AQABA, Jordan - Arab leaders meeting with President Bush in Egypt yesterday promised to prevent financing of terrorism and help stem violence against Israel, preparing the way for a crucial summit today, when the Israeli and Palestinian prime ministers meet with Bush here in Jordan.

Involving himself more deeply and personally than ever before in efforts to bring peace to the Middle East, Bush met with the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and Bahrain and Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

While avoiding public mention of the most deeply disputed issues, such as Jewish settlements in the West Bank, Bush privately admonished Palestinians and Israelis that now is the moment to confront the difficult issues that have prevented peace between them and to embrace the "road map" that the United States has devised.

During a tense moment apparently captured by a television microphone that Bush did not know was working, he bluntly told Abbas to rein in militant groups: "You, sir, have got a responsibility, and you've assumed it."

And he told Abbas and the other leaders that they must "fight off any source of funding to terror" and "to prevent the terrorists from gaining a foothold."

He also had words, picked up by the same microphone, for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who did not participate in the Egypt summit but is to be in Aqaba today.

"Israel must deal with the settlements," Bush said. "Israel must make sure there is a continuous territory that the Palestinians can call home."

Later, a Bush spokesman said the president intended to say "contiguous," an important nuance emphasizing Bush's desire for a Palestinian state that is not divided into parts.

Bush has used the summit as an opportunity to convince a skeptical Arab audience that the United States can be an honest and fair broker between Israel and the Palestinians. Many believe that American leaders are the only ones capable of forcing concessions from each side and restoring stability to the turbulent region, but they are wary of the close U.S. ties to Israel. Still, they responded to some of Bush's arguments.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak vowed to sever funding for militant groups and promised "to fight the scourge of terrorism against humanity and reject the culture of extremism ... regardless of justification and motives."

Mubarak, standing next to Bush at a podium with the Red Sea sparkling behind him in the hot afternoon sun, endorsed the road map initiative and called upon Israel "to simultaneously fulfill its own responsibilities to rebuild trust and restore normal Palestinian life."

Bush is investing considerable political capital and personal attention in trying to achieve what he calls a permanent peace after so many before him, including former President Bill Clinton and two high-level envoys from his own administration, have failed.

At one point he was seen driving Mubarak, Abbas, Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa and Jordan's King Abdullah II around in a golf cart.

Previous efforts to bring peace to the Middle East were washed away in bloodshed and abandoned, leaving Israelis and Palestinians to deal with violence that has left more than 2,700 people dead in the past 32 months.

Bush said yesterday that he is committed to invest the time needed to accomplish his mission and indicated he is prepared to dispatch monitors to the region. Aides said he might name a new Mideast envoy.

"If all sides fulfill their obligations, we can make steady progress on the road toward Palestinian statehood, a secure Israel, and a just and comprehensive peace," he said. "We seek true peace, not just a pause between more wars and intifadas, but a permanent reconciliation among the peoples of the Middle East."

The president urged the Palestinian people "to embrace new leaders who stand for reform, democracy and fighting terror. All progress toward peace requires a rejection of terror."

That statement was a direct reference to Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, the new prime minister appointed by longtime Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Arafat was not invited to the summit because Bush considers him unable or unwilling to take measures necessary for peace. The summit was designed as a venue to enhance Abbas' prestige in the region.

The Arab leaders did not publicly endorse Abbas and repudiate Arafat as the United States would have liked, though agreeing to hold the summit without Arafat was an important concession. In his remarks, Mubarak did not mention Abbas by name, even though Abbas sat behind him.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell later told reporters that the Bush administration recognizes Arafat as an elected leader, but he noted: "Yasser Arafat was not here today. Prime Minister Abbas was."

Powell repeated the U.S. position that Arafat's "leadership has failed, and it is time for new leadership to come forward. We now see that new leadership, and we are working with it."

He then warned Arafat that he should not "serve as a spoiler" to the peace process. "It would be very unfortunate if Mr. Arafat fails to recognize the significance of today and what I'm sure will be the significance of tomorrow." He added that there now is a chance for statehood "that had previously been denied to the Palestinian people." And he hoped they would not let anyone, including Mr. Arafat, deny them that opportunity.

Abbas, on his maiden diplomatic venture, has a tough road ahead. He must persuade reluctant militant groups to stop attacks while carefully maneuvering between angry Palestinians and Arafat, who is trying hard to remain relevant.

Today, Abbas will reportedly announce the end of the armed conflict with Israel, which would be a historic and brave statement. It falls short, however, of an even broader statement urged by U.S. officials to call for an end to the uprising.

Such statements are difficult for Abbas. Members of his Fatah Party and its armed faction, the Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, object to the cease-fire, calling it a surrender to Israel.

"Nobody can stop the intifada," Hatem Abdel Khader, a member of the Fatah Central Committee, said in a telephone interview yesterday. "It's not all Abu Mazen. The intifada didn't start as the result of a decision, and it won't end as a result of a decision. It started because of circumstances created by Israel, and when those circumstances end, the intifada will end."

Khader was interviewed by telephone as he drove to a West Bank village to welcome home Palestinian prisoners. In a goodwill gesture, Israel released about 100 of the estimated 5,000 Palestinians it holds. Among them was Ahmad Jubarah, 68, Israel's oldest and longest-held Palestinian prisoner. Arafat greeted Jubarah in an appearance showing that he considered himself still in charge.

According to the Associated Press:

In Al Khader, a village near Bethlehem, about a dozen released prisoners jumped off a bus, kneeled and prayed.

Relatives ran past unguarded concrete barriers to greet the prisoners, all but one of whom had been held without charges in military prisons, the army said. The exception was Jubarah, who was released from Israel's Ashkelon prison, where he had been held for nearly three decades for his role in a 1975 Jerusalem bombing that killed 13 people.

Many Israelis, including some Cabinet ministers, objected to Jubarah's release, saying it violated Israel's principle of not freeing prisoners directly involved in terror attacks.

Cheering Palestinians hoisted Jubarah on their shoulders. He clasped hands with Arafat as their picture was taken.

Also released was Amjad Azzeh, 24, who said Israeli soldiers arrested him six months ago, accusing him of being an agent of Fatah, whose armed wing has carried out many terror attacks.

Ayman Azzeh said seeing his brother made him optimistic that the summit could achieve real results: "It gives us hope that something good will happen this time."

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