U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has received assurances from Israel that it will do all it can to facilitate Palestinian elections scheduled for early January. The United States hopes Mr. Powell's visit will revitalize Middle East peace efforts.
Secretary Powell has repeatedly spoken of a "moment of opportunity," and he's come to the area to try to get Israelis and Palestinians to seize it.
Washington strongly supports Palestinian plans to hold elections January 9 to choose a successor to Yasser Arafat. And, he wants Israel to do its part to allow those elections to take place freely and without interference.
Mr. Powell met Monday morning with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and then with Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom.
"The Palestinians will need access for candidates to move around, for people to get to polling stations," said Mr. Powell. "We didn't get into the specifics of timing of actions that Israel might take, but they understand what the need is."
Foreign Minister Shalom promised support as long as it does not jeopardize Israeli security."Israel will do everything it can in order to ease conditions for the Palestinians to have their own elections," he said. "It includes, of course freedom of movement."
Mr. Shalom did not specify whether Israel would actually withdraw its troops from Palestinian areas, as called for by Palestinian leaders.
Secretary Powell also called on both sides to live up to the commitments they made under the road map peace plan, which was launched a year and a half ago, but never got off the ground. He said the Palestinians must halt violence.
"What we really need is for the Palestinian side in this new era to speak out clearly against terrorism and to gather in all of the elements of the Palestinian community and to make it clear to them that it is time to stop all incitement, to stop all violence," stated Mr. Powell. "And, if they do that, what I've heard from my Israeli colleague this morning is that they will act in kind. That's what we're looking for - both sides to be able to act in concert with one another and in a responsible manner."
Mr. Powell followed up his talks in Jerusalem with a visit to the West Bank city of Jericho where he met with the new interim Palestinian leadership, including PLO chief Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia.
Later on Monday, the secretary flies to the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheik for an international conference on Iraq.