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SHARON fails to win full European support for Israel's positions


JERUSALEM (AP) _ Ariel Sharon returned Friday from a two-day European trip _ his first as prime minister _ that highlighted differences with France and Germany over a series of issues, including Israel's policy of targeted killings of suspected Palestinian militants.

Sharon said he told French and German leaders the killings were an act of self-defense aimed at preventing attacks against Israelis.

``I won't say that we got support or applause,'' Sharon said of the response of his hosts, but added that he believed Israel's motives were understood. Sharon spoke to Israel TV's Channel Two after his return to Israel.

In the West Bank town of Ramallah, about 3,000 Palestinians joined the funeral procession of a Palestinian man killed a day earlier in disputed circumstances, and in the town of Nablus, supporters of the Islamic militant group Hamas burned Sharon effigies and an Israeli flag during a march.

Also Friday, Israeli, Palestinian and U.S. security officials met to assess a shaky U.S.-brokered truce that took effect June 13. After a visit by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell last week, it had been agreed that a weeklong test period of calm would usher in a six-week ``cooling off'' period, followed by confidence-building measures, including a freeze on Israeli settlement construction.

The Palestinians have said they considered the test period to have concluded successfully on Thursday. Israel has said it has not yet begun, arguing that Palestinian violence has not ceased.

In Friday's security meeting, the U.S. representative sided with Israel, said Israeli Defense Ministry spokesman Yarden Vatikay. Palestinian security officials were not immediately available for comment.

Later on Friday, Powell telephoned Sharon, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan ``to encourage the parties to keep taking steps to make this continue for the cessation of violence to be more effective,'' according to a senior State Department official, who asked not to be identified.

Each side has accused the other of major truce violations.

Israel says Arafat has done nothing to stop Palestinian gunmen who have persistently attacked Israeli motorists in the West Bank. The Palestinians say Israeli soldiers continue to use excessive force against civilians and that Israel's targeted killings of suspected Palestinian militants constitute a major violation of the truce.

Twenty-four Palestinians have been killed in 19 attacks by Israeli commandos in nine months of fighting, according to a Palestinian human rights group.

The United States and the United Nations have condemned the killings.

In his meetings in Europe, Sharon tried to win support for Israel's targeting of suspected militants, Sharon's spokesman, Raanan Gissin, said. The Israeli leader also tried to persuade European leaders to exert massive pressure on Arafat.

Leaving a Friday morning meeting with French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, Sharon said ``things were put on the table in a very clear manner, and it is evident that we do not agree on all points.'' He did not give details.

Officials with Jospin said there were ``differences of perception'' in how to apply the recommendations of the plan by the international Mitchell Commission, which calls for a six-week cooling off period between Israel and the Palestinians, followed by confidence-building measures, including a freeze of construction in Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza.

French President Jacques Chirac urged Sharon not to discredit Arafat, saying it would be ``counterproductive'' for peace, according to Chirac's spokeswoman, Catherine Colonna.

Jospin reiterated that concern, calling on Sharon to consider Arafat a partner and an interlocutor, French officials said.
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