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Quartet of World Powers Demands an End to 'Senseless' Fighting


MADRID — In the city where the current peace process was born 11 years ago, a quartet of world powers called Wednesday for an immediate end to Israel's military operation in the West Bank and for both Israelis and Palestinians to stop "this senseless confrontation."

Ranking officials from the United Nations, the United States, the European Union and Russia huddled in crisis session here to discuss the escalating Mideast violence and issued a tough joint statement that also warned of the growing risk that the fighting will ignite a wider regional conflict.

"Believing that there has been too much suffering and too much bloodshed, we call on the leaders of Israel and the Palestinian Authority to act in the interests of their own people, the region and the international community and to immediately halt this senseless confrontation," they said in the statement, read at a news conference here.

The four parties specifically called for a meaningful cease-fire to end the worst fighting in a generation between Israelis and Palestinians and for a full Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian cities, including an end to the siege of Yasser Arafat's headquarters in Ramallah.

The quartet then called on the Palestinian Authority president to make the "maximum possible effort" to stop the terrorist attacks on Israel and to immediately take all possible steps to dismantle the terrorist network, end the incitement to violence and block financing of extremist groups.

In a message to the militant groups behind the Palestinian assaults, the statement condemned suicide bombings as "illegal and immoral" and warned that the tactic was doing grave harm to the Palestinians' aspirations to achieve their own state.

The four parties warned both sides that "there is no military solution to the conflict."

They also offered full backing for Secretary of State Colin L. Powell's high-stakes diplomatic mission to Israel, adding important international leverage and new momentum to his mediation, scheduled to begin Friday.

But the difficulties ahead for Powell were underscored Wednesday by yet another suicide bombing, this time in Haifa, that killed eight Israelis and injured 14. Shortly afterward, the Israeli Cabinet announced that its 13-day military operation would continue, according to Israel Radio.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was quoted as calling Powell's intention to meet with Arafat "a tragic mistake."

After talks with Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Pique, Powell said that his mission was "not in the least in jeopardy" because of Sharon's comments and that it was important to meet with Arafat.

"He is the leader of the Palestinian people, and I think the Palestinian people and the Arab leaders with whom I've met over the past several days believe he is the partner that Israel will have to deal with at some point," Powell said at a news conference with Pique.

"The reality," he added, "is that no other Palestinian or Arab leader was prepared to engage until Arafat had a chance to express his views."

In Washington, White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer spoke of Sharon's refusal to comply with a demand by President Bush to withdraw, saying, "Welcome to the Middle East."

"The United States has no choice but to help, and help we will," Fleischer said.

"I don't think it surprises the American people that this is a challenge, that this is difficult, and that people in the region don't simply stop, salute the United States and say, 'Yes, sir.' That is not how diplomacy works. But it will not stop this president from doing everything in his power to find ways to bring the parties together."

The Madrid meeting with Powell included U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana and Russian Foreign Minister Igor S. Ivanov.

In blunt language, their statement called on Israel to refrain from "the excessive use of force" and to do everything possible to protect civilians. The two-page document was laced with references to deteriorating conditions in the West Bank and the need for humanitarian assistance for Palestinian civilians.

In a separate statement, Annan said he was "frankly appalled" by the situation in the Palestinian territories and appealed to Israel to stop the damage and destruction to civilian and personal property.

"None of us will know the full gravity of the situation until we gain access to all territories that are now the theater of battle. I have a sense that we will be shocked by what we see," the U.N. chief told reporters.

Annan also called on Lebanon and all other relevant parties to take steps to prevent cross-border attacks by Hezbollah guerrillas in southern Lebanon.

Annan said he had talked to Syrian President Bashar Assad and Lebanese President Emile Lahoud, who provided assurances that they were doing whatever they could to hold down attacks along the border between Lebanon and Israel.

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