US Central Command said that the capture of Abbas, the Palestinian Liberation Forces (PLF) leader who masterminded the hijacking of the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro in 1985, highlighted the US’ commitment to ‘defeating terrorism worldwide’. One of the main objectives of attacking Iraq was to ‘search for, capture and drive out terrorists who have found safe haven in Iraq’.

But while ‘mission accomplished’ might be the general feeling in Washington concerning Iraq, the core of the region’s problems – Israel and Palestine – still requires a solution. Once Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), the new Palestinian Prime Minister, takes office, the US has said it will unveil the plan. According to the Lebanese Daily Star, this is the point at which ‘all Arabs look for indications of US intentions’.

The blueprint for the roadmap has been drafted by the Quartet – the US, UN, EU and Russia. US Secretary of State Colin Powell stressed on 15 April that the fall of Saddam Hussein ‘opens a new opportunity to renew the peace process’ and called on Israel to halt settlement-building in the Palestinian territories.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has gone further than usual in indicating that he may be prepared to make ‘concessions’ on the settlements ‘that are painful for every Jew and for me personally’. In an interview with the left-wing Israeli daily Haaretz he spoke approvingly of Mahmoud Abbas’ appointment, remarks which drew a cautious response from Palestinian officials. ‘He speaks vaguely in English about painful concessions for peace while giving orders in Hebrew to intensify settlement activities,’ said chief spokesman Saeb Erekat.

As further clashes in the West Bank and Gaza on 15 April left four Palestinians and three Israeli soldiers dead, Israeli forces cordoned off the Occupied Territories in preparation for the annual Passover festival.