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Arafat Condemns Violence

In a televised speech to his people, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat condemned terrorist attacks against Israel. The U.S. and Israel responded warily, the European Union took a more optimistic line.

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Seeing eye to eye? Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat

Bowing to international pressure to stop a wave of violence that has escalated the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the past weeks, Palestinian Leader Yasser Arafat condemned the terror attacks on Israel and vowed to "hunt down the violators."

Arafat made the speech only days after Israeli Prime Minister Sharon dismissed him as "not relevant".

The 25-minute speech on Palestinian television Sunday night marked the first time Arafat made a direct appeal to his people. It came following a bloody two weeks in the year-old conflict, in which 40 Israelis and 30 Palestinians were killed.

"I today reiterate a call for the complete and immediate cessation of all military activities," Arafat said in the videotaped statement that aired as families celebrated the end of the Islamic holy month Ramadan. "I renew the call to completely halt any activities, especially suicide attacks, which we have ... always condemned."

But the head of the Palestinian Authority did not ask that Palestinians give up their quest for their own state and called for Israeli Prime Minister Sharon to end his "brutal war" against the Palestinian Authority.

"We are not going to be humiliated," he said. He said the goal would continue to be the formation of a Palestinian state "next to the state of Israel."

Europe optimistic, US wary

The speech was greeted with optimism in European circles. Javier Solana, the European Union’s foreign policy head, said he welcomed Arafat’s speech.

"It seems that there is a new window of opportunity," he said. "The parties should act now to consolidate this hope."

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said Arafat had taken an important step by condemning violence and opening a route back to the negotiating table.

"Israel is now asked to do everything possible to help President Arafat and the Palestinian Authority undertake this effort and come quickly to a cease fire agreement," Fischer said in a statement.

But representatives of Arafat’s most important audience, Israel and the United States, reacted more skeptically. Both emphasized that deeds, not words, were what was needed.

"It’s not the speech that’s important, but what he does on the ground," said Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres.

US Secretary of State Colin Powell said on American television Sunday that he was unhappy that many suspected Palestinian terrorists haven’t been arrested.

"Arafat has to respond to this challenge," Powell said on Sunday. "and so far he hasn’t done enough."

A bloody two weeks

The statements came a few days after Powell announced he was pulling the United States’ special envoy, retired Marine general Anthony Zinni, out of the region for "consultations."

Zinni had been sent to Israel two weeks ago to bring both sides to a cease-fire agreement. The day he arrived, Palestinian gunmen went on a bloody killing spree, endangering the talks between the two sides.

Violence on both sides escalated. Israel launched air strikes against Palestinian targets, including the headquarters of Arafat’s personal guard, after suicide bombings killed more than 25 people last weekend. After a bus ambush killed 10 Israelis, Prime Minister Ariel Scharon cut off ties to the Palestinian leader, dismissing him as "not relevant."

Arafat has been silent since Sharon’s statement but seems to have heeded calls by the United States and the European Union to take action. Members of his police forces closed offices associated with Islamic Jihad and Hamas, the main culprits in recent terror attacks against Israel. In all, 26 such offices in the West Bank and Gaza have been shut down.

Hamas rejects Arafat's speech, violence flares

The action has angered Hamas, which on Monday spoke out against Arafat's speech. The Palestinian leader, "left the door open for the criminal Sharon to continue his politics of destroying the Palestinian people," the organization said in a statement.

Violence continued to flare. Israeli security forces killed a suspected member of Hamas and a Palestinian policeman Monday. A firefight between Palestinian gunmen and Israeli soldiers erupted shortly after the end of Arafat's speech Sunday. No one was injured in that attack.

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