POWELL says the time has come for Arafat to control violence

Sunday, June 3rd 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Secretary of State Colin Powell said Sunday ``this is the time'' for Yasser Arafat to control the level of violence by Palestinians against Israelis.

Powell also said he fears a retaliatory strike by Israel in response to a suicide bomb attack in Tel Aviv that killed 20 people could plunge the region into ``an abyss that we might not be able to get out of.''

The Palestinian leader called a cease-fire Saturday, and Israel's Cabinet was reported to be giving him the chance to enforce it. Israel on Saturday canceled its self-proclaimed cease-fire after the bombing at a beachfront disco Friday night.

Israeli leaders ``are watching carefully to make sure this is not just a declaration, not just a statement,'' Powell said.

Powell said he thinks Arafat has ``a great control'' over Palestinians but cannot control ``every last person.''

``If he uses that authority'' to make sure the cease-fire holds, ``that will carry great weight,'' Powell said on NBC's ``Meet the Press.''

``My message for him is pretty direct and clear. ... This is the time to bring the violence under control.''

The secretary, who on Saturday canceled a weekend trip to Central America, spoke by telephone on Saturday with Arafat, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and other world leaders. Both Powell, in his conversations, and President Bush, through a spokesman, urged Arafat to take ``concrete'' steps to end the violence.

Speaking of Sharon, Powell said Sunday: ``I know how much pressure he is under. ... So far he is pacing the response. He is giving the other side time to act to see if they will do what they say they will do.''

Powell hoped the violence would not escalate and that Israel would not resort to using U.S.-made F-16 fighter planes, which last month took part in attacks against targets in Palestinian territory.

``Hopefully, that will not be necessary,'' Powell said. He said he would go to the region ``at some point.''

He pointed to the recently released report by an international commission led by former Sen. George Mitchell as a way to move ahead on the diplomatic front. The report recommended a step-by-step process of an end to violence, confidence-building measures and a return to negotiations.

``Let's build on the Mitchell report,'' Powell said.