Sharon Is Urged Not to Discredit His Foe

From Times Wire Services

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon tried to persuade European leaders Thursday to exert "massive pressure" on Yasser Arafat, but French President Jacques Chirac urged him not to discredit the Palestinian Authority president, saying it would be "counterproductive" for peace.

On his first official trip to Europe as prime minister, Sharon also heard concerns from German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder over the issue of Israeli settlements.

In the Middle East, Israelis and Palestinians accused one another of plotting more attacks in violation of a cease-fire.

In the West Bank city of Ramallah, a 39-year-old Palestinian was killed during a gunfight between Palestinians and Israeli soldiers guarding Psagot, a Jewish settlement nearby, Palestinians said. Witnesses said Nasser Abed was playing soccer in a schoolyard when he was hit by a bullet. Two other Palestinians were wounded, one seriously, doctors said.

The Israeli military said that Palestinians fired on an army vehicle near Psagot and that soldiers returned the fire. One Israeli soldier was slightly wounded.

Sympathies in Europe often lie with the Palestinians, and Sharon was the subject of protests in Paris, where hundreds marched, chanting, "Sharon, assassin!"

Sharon said he had come to Europe "to present clearly and categorically the position of the Israeli government." The help of Europe's leaders, he said on his plane to Paris, "is very important, to put massive pressure on Arafat. This is the only way to make Arafat fight terrorism."

But Chirac urged Sharon to not discredit the Palestinian leader, saying that "the weakening of the president of the Palestinian Authority would be counterproductive," said the president's spokeswoman, Catherine Colonna.

Earlier in the day, Schroeder pledged German support for Israel, yet urged Sharon to show "more flexibility" about the issue of Jewish settlements in Palestinian areas.

In other related developments:

* Terje Roed-Larsen, the United Nations' special Middle East envoy, called for a mediator who could help advance the U.S.-brokered truce and rule on conflicting claims made by the Israelis and Palestinians.

* U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged Israel to end what he regards as a policy of assassinating Palestinian militants, saying it violated international law and threatened peace efforts. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell also reiterated U.S. opposition to the policy.

* The Palestinian Cabinet charged that Israel is trying to cancel all agreements and appealed for international action.

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