Powell finds his path to peace blocked

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The Independent Online

As the world discovered the horrors of the Jenin refugee camp yesterday, the intense efforts of Colin Powell, the US Secretary of State, failed once more to achieve either diplomatic progress or an end to the Israeli military offensive in the West Bank.

Instead, Israeli troops pressed on into two more Palestinian villages near Bethlehem, where Israeli forces exchanged fire with an estimated 200 armed Palestinian trapped inside the compound of the besieged Church of the Nativity. Separately, in one of the biggest successes in the 17-day-old drive to root out Palestinian "terrorists", Israel captured Marwan Barghouti, a close aide to the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Today, General Powell is expected to hold further talks with both Ariel Sharon, the Israeli Prime Minister, and Mr Arafat. But Mr Sharon said last night that it could be a week or more before the Israeli operation was wrapped up.

A small glimmer of possibility emerged in the hopes for a ceasefire with proposals for a conference, at Ministerial level, between Israel, Palestinians and several Arab countries. The level would get around Israel's refusal to allow Mr Arafat to attend. General Powell said the US might back such a conference, but that thinking was at an early stage.