JERUSALEM – Secretary of State Colin Powell called off his Saturday meeting with Yasser Arafat after a new suicide bombing on Friday laid out before Powell's eyes the carnage he had come to Israel to try to end.
The meeting might be rescheduled for Sunday, a senior U.S. official said. Powell's spokesman indicated, however, that the secretary "expects a clear denunciation of terrorism" and of the new bombing in the meantime.
Arafat has been reluctant to make such a statement, with support for suicide attacks running high among Palestinians as a result of Israel's military offensive in the West Bank.
Earlier Friday, Powell failed to persuade Israeli Prime Minister Sharon to provide a timetable for withdrawing Israeli troops from Palestinian cities and towns, although he continued to press the matter.
Soon after Powell's effort on that side of the conflict fell short, he was confronted with the agony of the other side.
Powell got word of the bombing at a Jerusalem marketplace and hovered overhead in a helicopter as the dead and injured were taken away.
Israeli Defense Minister Benyamin Ben-Eliezer provided Powell with details and the helicopter passed over the site of the attack en route to the Israel Defense Force's northern headquarters.
"It illustrates the exceptionally dangerous situation that exists here," he said in a telephone call to Sharon.
The bomber killed six shoppers and injured many more by detonating explosives she was wearing.
In a statement read to reporters at Safed, in northern Israel where the secretary of state toured the tense border area near Lebanon, Powell suggested that accelerated diplomacy was the right response.
There is a need, he said, "for all of us, everyone, the international community, to exert every effort we can to find a solution."
And yet, a few hours later, Powell directed State Department spokesman Richard Boucher to announce he was "looking at the whole situation in terms of the bombing and where we stand and where we are," raising questions about whether Powell would press ahead.
After midnight, Boucher announced, "In light of today's developments, the secretary will not be meeting with Chairman Arafat on Saturday."
"It is important that Chairman Arafat not miss this opportunity to take a clear stand against the violence that harms the Palestinian cause," the spokesman said.
"There's been too much suffering on both sides," he added.
Powell will meet in Jerusalem with Red Cross and U.N. officials on Saturday to review the deteriorating situation in the West Bank, Boucher said.
‘We Are Talking About a Week’
Although Sharon would not give Powell a timetable for pulling back from Israeli incursions, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said Israel's aims in Palestinian areas were close to being met.
"We are anxious as anybody else to complete the mission and leave," he said. "We are not talking about years, we are talking about a week or something a little bit more than that."
Powell had planned tentatively to see Sharon on Friday, Arafat on Saturday, Sharon again on Sunday and Arafat on Monday — and had not set a deadline for winding up.
"Israel is conducting a war against the Palestinian infrastructure of terror and hopes to end it as soon as possible," Sharon said at a news conference with Powell.
For his part, Powell said he had explained the U.S. position to the prime minister and "I hope we can find a way to come to an agreement on this point of the duration of the operations and get back to a track that will lead to a political settlement."
‘This Is Coming From Anger and Suffering’
Mohammed Dahlan, head of the Palestinian Preventive Security Service for the Gaza Strip, said Israel's military offensive was to blame for creating suicide bombers. "This is coming from the anger and suffering of the Palestinian people due to these attacks and sieges," he said in an interview.
Earlier, Powell took a tough stand on what he wanted from Arafat, who is cooped up in Ramallah under Israeli-imposed isolation.
"What is important now is not just rhetoric going on into the air with no effect but action — action that will bring this violence under control, action that will give a feeling of hope to the people in the region," he said.
Reaction in the U.S.
At the White House, spokesman Ari Fleischer said Powell had the flexibility necessary to his mission.
As for the Palestinian leader, Fleischer said, "Today would be a very good day for Yasser Arafat to publicly denounce terrorism and show some statesmanship."
In Congress, meanwhile, Republican Sen. Kit Bond of Missouri said Friday that the White House should consider bringing Powell home and refuse to deal with Arafat.
"We shouldn't be trying to help bring a peace settlement when the atrocities continue to emanate from the Palestinian Authority," Bond said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.