Washington kept out Arafat from
the latest summits

Arafat said Sharon’s pledge to dismantle some Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank did not represent a significant Israeli concession.

“Unfortunately, he has not yet offered anything tangible,” Arafat told reporters at his West Bank compound.

"What's the significance of removing a caravan from one location and then saying 'I have removed a settlement'?"

Israel said it would uproot settlements it deems are rogue, built after 2001. Under international law all settlements are illegal.

Washington sidelined Arafat at the summit on Wednesday between US President George W. Bush, Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas and Sharon at the Jordanian resort Aqaba.

But European representatives said they would maintain contacts with Arafat, despite US objections. A senior US official, speaking in Doha during Bush’s visit, said the Europeans would continue dealing with Arafat for “their own political reasons”.

“We basically don’t think it’s a good idea,” said the official. But US officials have acknowledged that Arafat remains a powerful influence among Palestinians.

Opposition

Jewish settlers denounced peace
moves

A day after Palestinians and Israelis pledged their support for the US plan, they were faced with vehement opposition at home.

Tens of thousands of Jewish settlers took to the streets of Jerusalem late Wednesday, denouncing the Aqaba summit as a “humiliating…surrender to Palestinian terror”.

Settlers said they would hold a series of protests. They carried banners reading “No to giving them a Palestinian state”.

Israeli security sources said they had tightened security around Sharon over possible threats from extremist Jews infuriated by his backing for the blueprint.

Israeli public radio reported Israeli’s Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz would discuss dismantling some settlements with Sharon on Thursday. The radio said measures may be taken beginning next week.

For his part, Abbas said he would use all resources to end “the militarization of the intifada”.

But Hamas leader Abdul Aziz Rantissi declared “we will stand by the Palestinian people and by the gun”, vowing to carry on with their resistance.

His sentiments were echoed by leaders of the Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

Violence 

Despite Israel’s pledge to implement the "road map", violence continued on Thursday. Israeli tanks launched a raid into the occupied Gaza Strip town of Rafah, destroying at least four homes.

In the occupied West Bank city of Jenin Israeli soldiers detained nine Palestinians in an overnight incursion. Palestinian security sources said none of them were activists.

Israeli troops also opened fire at stone-throwers in the West Bank city of Ram Allah, injuring three students. A Palestinian teenager who had been shot by Israeli soldiers died of his wounds.