Palestinians want Powell to press Israel for withdrawal from disputed areas |

Palestinians want Powell to press Israel for withdrawal from disputed areas

JERUSALEM- Palestinian leaders will urge Secretary of State Colin Powell to pressure Israel to withdraw troops from disputed areas in the West Bank before holding January elections to replace longtime leader Yasser Arafat, a senior official said Saturday.

Underscoring the troubled security situation there, Israeli forces shot and killed two 15-year-old Palestinian boys throwing stones at Israeli jeeps in the West Bank city of Nablus, Palestinian hospital officials said. The Israeli army said it opened fire on two Palestinians who were shooting at them, but it did not know whether they had died.

In other violence, soldiers shot a Palestinian man attempting to infiltrate the Israeli settlement of Netzarim in the Gaza Strip. Palestinian security officials said he was killed.

Also, the Palestinians formally opened the campaign to replace Arafat, as candidates began seeking signatures to qualify for the Jan. 9 ballot. Candidates have 12 days to submit their paperwork for the landmark election.

In the run-up to Powell’s visit, the Palestinian leadership will outline a sweeping agenda to return to peace talks in Sunday meetings with William Burns, the U.S. assistant secretary of state and the most senior American to visit the West Bank since Arafat’s death Nov. 11.

“We will ask him for assistance in conducting the elections,” Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath said. “In this, we need an Israeli withdrawal.”

Israeli troops returned to areas of the West Bank following the outbreak of Israeli-Palestinian violence four years ago.

The Palestinians have demanded that Israel withdraw troops from Palestinian areas to permit elections to go forward smoothly, arguing that large Israeli troop concentrations in Palestinian urban areas will intimidate voters.

In the past, Israel has rebuffed such requests.

The Palestinians also want assurances from Powell that the original timetable President Bush raised in the so-called “road map” peace plan will be honored. The Palestinians want statehood by 2005 and claim that the four-year time plan described by Bush earlier this month could lead to an Israeli land grab.

Shaath also said Palestinian leaders would press Powell to offer U.S. financial assistance to the beleaguered Palestinian Authority and help re-establish the Palestinian security apparatus devastated by four years of fighting. He did not say how much money the Palestinians were seeking.

Burns will meet with Palestine Liberation Organization chief Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia and caretaker President Rauhi Fattouh, a U.S. official said on condition of anonymity.

Powell is scheduled to meet Israeli and Palestinian officials Monday. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw was expected Wednesday and Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Moratinos on Dec. 2.

As preparations for the Palestinian election began, the contest to replace Arafat appeared wide open. Though Abbas inherited Arafat’s most powerful job, his nomination as candidate of the ruling Fatah party for Palestinian Authority president is not assured.

Abbas leads the old guard of politicians being challenged by younger activists demanding a share of power after being excluded during the Arafat years.

The young guard is led by Marwan Barghouti, a popular uprising leader jailed by Israel. Barghouti plans to run as an independent unless Fatah holds a primary to choose its candidate, sources close to him have said. However, such a primary is unlikely.

Barghouti’s wife, Fadwa, picked up an application form for her husband from the Central Election Commission in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Saturday.

“I’ve taken the application to be ready in case Marwan decides to run in the election,” she said. “He is still considering the issue and consulting with this colleagues.”

Independent candidates not nominated by a political party must submit 5,000 signatures of support and deposit $3,000.

The potential candidates include Sheik Talal Sidr, a former Hamas leader who joined forces with Arafat in 1996, and Abdel Sattar Qassem, a political science professor and anti-corruption crusader.