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Palestinian official fears more violence

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March 1, 2001 


CAIRO-(AP) - The chief Palestinian negotiator expressed concern Wednesday that violence would increase as the Mideast awaited new peace ideas from the U.S. administration.

While touring the region on a visit that ended Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell "did not give any statements about occupation and the necessity of ending this occupation. Therefore we should not speak about a change in the American stance," Saeb Erekat said. "It might take this administration months to prepare its position in dealing with the Middle East question. This means there will be a vacuum," he said.

Erekat appeared pessimistic, saying violence "might escalate more."

His comments came after a one-hour meeting between President Hosni Mubarak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, during which they discussed forging a common position ahead of an Arab summit in Amman, Jordan on March 26 as well as the new Israeli government under Prime Minister-elect Ariel Sharon, Erekat said.

The violence in the West Bank and Gaza has left more than 400 people dead, most of them Palestinians, since Sept. 28, when Sharon's visit to a Jerusalem shrine holy to both Muslims and Jews sparked a new round of clashes. Thousands of people have been wounded.

During his tour, Powell met with both Israeli and Palestinian leaders and urged the Israelis to lift an economic "siege" on the Palestinian territories.

Just as Powell ended his tour, Arab leaders began scheduling meetings.

In Amman Wednesday, Jordanian Prime Minister Ali Abu-Ragheb and his Lebanese counterpart, Rafiq Hariri agreed there was a need for "a just, comprehensive and permanent peace that would restore rights to their legitimate owners," according to state-run Radio Jordan.

Abu-Ragheb also backed Syrian claims to the Golan Heights - a strategic plateau seized by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war - and Lebanese claims to Shabaa' farms in south Lebanon.

Hariri, who flew in from France, was also scheduled to meet with Jordan's King Abdullah II later on Wednesday.

On Thursday, Arafat flies to Libya for talks with Moammar Gadhafi, while Jordanian Foreign Minister Abdul-Illah Khatib leaves on a tour of Britain and France for meetings with his counterparts on Iraq and the Middle East peace process.

Egypt's Mubarak and Jordan's Abdullah - two strong U.S. allies in the Middle East - are also scheduled for talks with U.S. President George W. Bush in Washington in April.

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