Israel Allows European Dignitaries to Visit Besieged Arafat

Israel announced Tuesday that it has given permission for a delegation of senior European officials to visit Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat in his besieged headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Pique said that EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and the organization's Middle East special envoy Miguel Moratinos would meet with Arafat on Tuesday night.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon also gave permission for Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail Cem and his Greek counterpart George Papandreou to visit Arafat on Thursday.

Foreign Minister Shimon Peres confirmed the Turkish and Greek visit after the two foreign ministers said that they would hold separate talks Thursday with Arafat and Peres.

Cem and Papandreou are also expected to meet Sharon during their joint mission, said Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Huseyin Dirioz.

The entire European delegation will meet Arafat at his besieged compound in Ramallah on Thursday, Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Huseyin Dirio said.

"After that, they will cross over for contacts with Israeli officials," Dirioz said. After meeting Peres, the three foreign ministers are planning a joint news conference, he said.

Pique and Solana were prevented from meeting with Arafat during a visit to the region at the beginning of the month, after Sharon ruled out the meeting on the grounds that the cabinet had decided to keep the Palestinian leader "isolated" in his compound.

Arafat has been confined to his compound since the beginning of the IDF's operation to destroy the terrorist infrastructure in the West Bank, which began some three weeks ago.

EU ministers hold one-on-one talks with Israelis, PalestiniansHoping to put Monday's diplomatic setback behind them, EU foreign ministers in Valencia, held one-on-one meetings with Israeli and Arab foreign ministers Tuesday to reconcile deep differences between Israel and its neighbors at an EU-Mediterranean meeting.

European attempts to get Arabs and Israelis to listen to each other failed Monday when Arab ministers stormed out as Deputy Foreign Minister Michael Melchior took the microphone.

Pique, hosting a meeting of 25 EU and southern Mediterranean nations, led all 15 EU foreign ministers in separate meetings with Palestinian official Nabil Sha'ath and Peres.

Sha'ath termed his meeting with the EU "fruitful," but added now was "not the time" for him to meet with Peres.

Officials said Pique would push the two sides to agree to a quick cease-fire, followed by a rapid start to peace talks.

A German diplomat, who asked not to be named, said Monday's walkout showed "a discussion between Israel and Arab nations now is not possible."

In comments after a meeting with Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, also in Valencia, Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika said Israel "was carrying out a genocide of the Palestinian people. Israel needs to stop the violence; the only strategy is peace."

In his opening remarks to delegates Monday, Tunisian Foreign Minister Habib Ben Yahia accused Israel of having massacred and humiliated Palestinians with its West Bank offensive.

Arab delegates did not stay for Melchior's comments, which EU officials said were conciliatory, saying Israel could not be secure unless there was a secure Palestinian state. Melchior stood in for Peres, who was absent Monday.

As an overture of good faith, the EU offered unspecified aid to reconstruct Palestinian towns devastated by Israel's assault, but only if there is an end to the destruction. It also pledged to continue attempts to press Israel and the Palestinians to make peace.