Palestinians expect Powell to visit W. Bank

/ Source: staff and news service reports

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell is expected to visit the West Bank next week to meet the new Palestinian leadership that has have taken power provisionally after Yasser Arafat’s death, a Palestinian official said.

There was no immediate U.S. confirmation of the talks, although NBC's Tammy Kupperman reported from the Pentagon that there was a "strong possibility" that Powell would visit the West Bank next week.

It would be Powell’s first in Palestinian territories since May 2003, when he laid the groundwork for a U.S.-backed peace “road map” that has since been shredded by Israeli-Palestinian violence.

Powell’s visit could add substance to President Bush’s pledge for a new push toward peace and creation of a Palestinian state following the death last Thursday of Arafat, whom Washington had shunned.

“The U.S. secretary of state is coming to the West Bank next week, but the schedule and the agenda are still under discussion,” Mohammed al-Waheidi, spokesman for Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath, told Reuters.

Powell would likely hold talks with the new Palestine Liberation Organization chairman Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia, both seen as moderates, during his visit.

Bush said last week that the death of the veteran Palestinian leader could open a new chapter in the Middle East peace process.