Arafat calls for new talks with Israel
"I call upon all Israeli leaders, regardless of their lines, to move forward towards this peace for the sake of our children and their children, for our future and their future," Arafat said. "This peace can be achieved and can be a real actual alternative to the state of daily killing imposed on us."
But Arafat urged the new government of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to resume talks where they left off under his predecessor, Ehud Barak -- a position that Sharon's government has said it won't accept.
Arafat gave his address Saturday at the first full session of the Palestinian parliament since Israel blockaded Palestinian areas in the wake of escalating violence five months ago. Sharon, a former general with a record of toughness toward the Palestinians, has said there can be no resumption of peace negotiations until Arafat halts the violence.
Arafat called on Israel's new administration to end the blockade of Palestinian territories and to end its escalation of military action -- which he said was a collective punishment against the Palestinian people. And he reasserted the Palestinian claim to statehood, saying the uprising had showed "the people's will and determination ... to achieve national rights."
"The Palestinian people took the peace option through their national institutions, and ... this option is a strategic option supported by a strong will and a clear vision," Arafat said. "It is the peace of the brave, the peace of righteousness and justice, the peace of international legitimacy."
Arafat's speech followed Israeli-Palestinian clashes that left 34 Palestinians wounded near the West Bank town of Ramallah, the Palestine Red Crescent Society said. And Saturday, Palestinian police said they had found the body of a man killed by Israeli gunfire close to the border between Gaza and Israel.
More than 465 people have been killed in clashes, ambushes, bombings and shellings since September 28, the day Sharon visited the Temple Mount -- Haram al-Sharif to Muslims -- a site hosting both Judaism's holiest site and a pair of sacred Islamic mosques.
Israeli economic sanctions have cost 250,000 Palestinians their jobs and pushed nearly 2 million people in the Palestinian territories into poverty, said Peter Hansen, head of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for the Palestinian Refugees.
Earlier this week, Sharon informed Arafat that he hoped to establish personal contacts very soon. Palestinian officials said they hoped to arrange a meeting between Sharon and Arafat in mid-March, but Sharon's spokesman, Raanan Gissin, said he knew of no plans for a meeting.
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