POWELL cancels overseas trip after bombing in Israel

Saturday, June 2nd 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell on Saturday urged Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to exercise restraint and immediately end the violence in the Middle East.

Troubled by a suicide bombing Friday night that killed 18 Israelis, Powell canceled a weekend trip to Central America, and discussed the situation in a series of urgent telephone calls with Israeli, Palestinian and world leaders.

Bush kept in touch with Powell and other national security officials from the presidential retreat in Camp David, Md.

``The president is very concerned about the violence in the Middle East and is calling on Chairman Arafat and the Palestinians to take concrete action to end the violence,'' White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said.

In calls to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Arafat, Powell stressed ``the need for an immediate and unconditional cessation of violence,'' a State Department official said.

Powell ``encouraged Arafat to take concrete steps to achieve that,'' the official said.

Powell also spoke by phone Saturday with U.N. Secretary-general Kofi Annan, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, and Javier Solana, the European Union's chief of foreign and security affairs.

Powell had been scheduled to depart Sunday for Costa Rica and join leaders from 33 other hemispheric countries to discuss ways of strengthening democracy.

``Due to developments in the Middle East, the secretary thought it was necessary he remain in Washington,'' the State Department official said.

President Bush spoke several times Saturday with Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Bush's national security adviser, and CIA Director George Tenet about the situation.

After the bombing in Tel Aviv, Israel, Bush demanded that Arafat condemn ``the heinous terrorist attack'' on a crowded beachfront and call for an immediate cease-fire.

``There is no justification for senseless attacks against innocent civilians,'' Bush said in a statement Friday night.

Arafat said Saturday he was ready to work for an ``immediate and unconditional cease-fire,'' but did not say what steps he was prepared to take.

The Israeli Cabinet, in a rare emergency session on the Jewish Sabbath, called off its self-declared policy of restraint, but gave Arafat time to rein in militants before Israel might launch any response.

The bombing, which also injured 90 people, came a week after the United States restarted efforts to bring the two sides together again.

Powell's absence from the two-day annual meeting of Organization of American States foreign ministers will not break tradition. Secretaries of state often pass up these meetings. Powell's initial planned presence was consistent with Bush's focus on hemispheric issues.