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Arafat gets warm welcome at the United Nations

Shunned by President Bush and under attack for not doing enough to combat terrorism, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat found a warm audience at the United Nations on Sunday and the ear of the secretary-general.

Arafat was escorted to the podium at the General Assembly's annual debate, an honor reserved for presidents and prime ministers, and many delegates _ although not the Israelis _ broke out in applause even before he began his speech. Even Bush was not met with the same enthusiasm when he addressed the 189-nation assembly.

While many world leaders who addressed this year's Assembly debate focused heavily on the terrorist attacks on the United States, Arafat devoted his time to the current Mideast crisis and accused Israel of "state-sponsored terrorism."

Despite being unable to secure a meeting with Bush, Arafat praised the president for his recognition Saturday of a future Palestinian state next to Israel.

"We have to thank him from our hearts," Arafat said.

Arafat called for the resumption of peace negotiations as soon as possible.

"We will exert every possible effort to achieve these objectives and will continue to exert our efforts to provide the best conditions for this endeavor," he said.

Secretary of State Colin Powell, who held talks with Arafat on Sunday, said Sunday the Bush administration is sending a powerful signal that it seeks a new Middle East with Israel and the Palestinians living side-by-side in their own states.

Until Saturday, U.S. officials had referred to the possibility of a "Palestinian state," but have never called it "Palestine."

Powell said Bush's remarks on Saturday in support of Palestinian statehood did not break new ground, but that the administration soon will follow with a more explicit outline of its position.

Powell said it was not a matter of placating or pleasing Arab governments.

"It is a matter of going forward and getting the violence down."

Powell said Bush would have an opportunity to meet with Arafat "as we move forward."

Suspected militants still free

RAMALLAH, West Bank _ Palestinian jails remain largely empty of militants, despite U.S. demands for large-scale arrests of those accused of attacks against Israelis.

Forty-four suspects are in custody, a Palestinian monitoring group says, while police put the number at 53. But many more, including leading militants and bombmakers, have avoided capture.

Last week, police backed away from arresting an Islamic Jihad leader after influential supporters of Arafat, ringed by men brandishing pistols and grenades, negotiated the suspect's escape.

Palestinians say Arafat is holding back because he fears a more aggressive manhunt will trigger internal strife.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's spokesman, Raanan Gissin, said Sunday that Arafat was taking some steps to crack down on militants but more was needed _ particularly to prevent suicide bombings.

Groups: Israel uses torture

JERUSALEM _ Israeli authorities continue to torture Palestinian detainees, despite a 1999 Supreme Court ruling banning the practice, three human rights groups said Sunday.

A 16-year-old claimed he was soaked in freezing water, made to carry a heavy wooden beam while manacled and then beaten, the groups said in a report issued Sunday. Israel said the ban against torture is in place, and that the allegations were being investigated.

A government report on the issue and a response from human rights groups will be submitted to a meeting of the U.N. Committee Against Torture today.

Two die in Mideast violence

JERUSALEM _ A Palestinian militant was killed Sunday when a bomb he was making exploded, Palestinian security officials said, and an Israeli was shot dead northeast of Tel Aviv in what police suspected was a Palestinian attack.

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