Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon, the man widely blamed for triggering the latest outbreak of Israeli-Palestinian disturbances, told a gathering of pro-Israel Christians that the Oslo peace process is dead.

He was speaking before a group of 4,000 Christians from around the world gathered in Jerusalem. He also expressed no regrets for his September visit to Jerusalem's al-Aqsa Mosque compound, revered by Jews as the Temple Mount, which many say triggered the recent spate of violence.

"The land of Israel is holy to Jews, Christians, and Muslims, but it was promised by God only to the Jews," declared Sharon, appearing upbeat and at ease before the crowd gathered for an annual "Feast of the Tabernacles" celebration in October.

Sharon said the recent violence teaches a number of lessons, including that free access to Jerusalem's holy sites can be guaranteed to Jews, Christians, and Muslims only if Israel remains fully sovereign over the city.

He said he placed full responsibility for the collapse of peace talks on Palestinian President Yasser Arafat. "The man ... who violated every paragraph of every agreement was Arafat. The Oslo agreement doesn't exist anymore. It is null and void."

Given the collapse of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, he said, Israel should take tough security measures to halt the civil revolt in the West Bank, and then seek to achieve a long-term, open-ended, interim agreement with the Palestinians, rather than a more ambitious permanent settlement.

Sharon has long been a controversial figure among mainstream Israelis, but he was clearly at home among the Christians, whom he described as "some of Israel's best friends."

Related Elsewhere

See today's lead article, "Between the Temple Mount and a Hard Place | Palestinian Christians want both peace in their villages and justice for their Muslim brothers."

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