Arafat: No One Can Deny or Limit Refugees' Right to Return
Palestinian refugees to return to areas they were expelled from and
IMEMC & Agencies, April 15, 2004 Palestinian President Yasser Arafat confirmed Thursday the right of Palestinian refugees to return to areas they were expelled from and called for a full Israeli withdrawal to June 4, 1967 borders. Arafat was speaking at a press conference in the West Bank city of Ramallah, following an emergency meeting of the Palestinian leadership called to discuss Wednesday's Washington meeting between U.S. President George W. Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei accused the U.S. Administration with being totally biased against Palestinians. In a phone talk with U.S. Secretary of State Collin Powell, on Wednesday night, Qurei said: "the U.S. position is an absolute bias against the Palestinian position, and we fully reject these unilateral measures and their consequences" Palestinian sources said that Qurei is considering quitting his post in reaction to Bush's Wednesday comments. The European Union insisted that there could be no unilateral change in Middle East borders. "The European Union will not recognize any change to the pre-1967 borders other than those arrived at by agreement between the parties," Irish Foreign Minister Brian Cowen said on behalf of the EU presidency. Cowen also said that any settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict "must include an agreed, just, fair and realistic solution to the refugee issue". Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said late Wednesday that Israel should talk with the Palestinians before embarking on the disengagement plan. Israel has informed Washington that it will implement Sharon's disengagement plan by summer 2005. Sharon's letter to Bush also promises to limit construction in the territories to "built up areas". Talks will begin shortly between Israel and the U.S. over the definition of "built-up areas" of the settlements. Bush on Wednesday issued an enthusiastic endorsement Sharon's disengagement plan, calling it "brave and courageous." In a letter to Sharon, Bush said "new realities on the ground would have to be taken into consideration during final status negotiations, that Israel would not have to fully withdraw to the 1949 armistice lines, and that Palestinian refugees would return to the Palestinian state, not Israel. The letter states that the U.S. was committed to the road map and would do "its utmost" to prevent any other political plan from being imposed on Israel. The letter, as well, backs Israel's right to self-defense and combat terror from territories it evacuates. Regarding the separation fence being constructed by Israel in the West Bank, Bush said it should be a security barrier and should be temporary rather than permanent. Palestinians are worried about the practical and political consequences of the new U.S. position concerning the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Palestinian commentators commented by saying that "the Americans moved from being the guarantors of the existence of Israel into the supporters of its aggression against Palestinians and their land"
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