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Leaders push for Mideast summit

Violence persists in the region despite worldwide pleas for a truce. Early today, an Arafat-Barak summit looked doubtful.

©Washington Post

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 14, 2000


JERUSALEM -- With violence subsiding on the ground, world leaders pushed Friday to bring Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat face to face with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak in a summit to end 16 days of bloodshed in the Gaza Strip and West Bank.

The effort appeared to end in failure early today.

U.S. and other officials said Arafat was demanding, as a condition for attending, that Barak pledge to pull back Israeli military forces from trouble spots in the clashes and rioting that have killed nearly 100 people, almost all Palestinians, since Sept. 28. Barak, they said, expressed willingness to attend but was insisting that Arafat's Palestinian Authority put out a call for an end to the violence as a good faith gesture.

"The Israeli army is still in positions which are close to the Palestinian-populated areas," said Ziad Abu Ziad, a Palestinian Cabinet minister. "If the Israelis accept the principle of withdrawing, pulling back their forces, it will do much to reduce the tension."

In Washington, President Clinton was said to be ready to leave Sunday for the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh for a meeting there Monday.

Clinton administration officials portrayed the summit as a crucial step to arrest a cycle of violence that over the last two weeks has poisoned the atmosphere for Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations and pushed leaders in both camps to talk instead of war.

Officials said that Clinton phoned the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Morocco asking them to use their influence with Arafat to persuade him to attend. The Arab leaders were said to be anxious for a meeting.

But Nabil Aburdeineh, a senior adviser to the Palestinian leader, said late Friday: "It is too early to talk about convening a summit. No precise date has been set. The Israeli aggression must stop before we can talk about other issues."

For his part, Barak said he would not agree to conditions for attending. "We are not ready to pave the way there with prizes for violence," he said. "There can be no reward for violence."

Across the West Bank, Palestinians marched to protest Israel's rocket attacks Thursday against Palestinian government buildings, including police stations and broadcast centers.

Barak ordered the missiles fired as retribution for the slayings of two Israeli soldiers by a Palestinian mob at a police station in the West Bank town of Ramallah. A third Israeli, possibly a hitchhiker picked up by the soldiers, was burned to death in their car.

Standing on the ruins of the police station hit by Israeli rockets, Marwan Barghouti, the West Bank leader of Arafat's Fatah movement, exhorted a cheering crowd to stand tough.

"This is our fight and we defy Barak and his tanks and planes," said Barghouti, who has been singled out by Barak as the mastermind of shooting attacks on Israelis.

Later, a firefight erupted between some of the demonstrators and Israeli troops manning a checkpoint north of Ramallah.

In the West Bank town of Hebron, a 22-year-old Palestinian was killed in what the Israeli army said was a gunbattle between Israeli troops and gunmen mingling with Palestinian rock-throwers in the center of town.

Palestinian witnesses said that only the Israelis fired and that soldiers kept shooting when demonstrators tried to remove the wounded man, who died later at a hospital.

Ninety-five people, most Palestinians, have been killed in 16 days of clashes triggered by the visit of Israel's hard-line opposition leader, Ariel Sharon, to a contested Jerusalem shrine known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as Haram as-Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary. On two previous Fridays, deadly clashes erupted between police and rock-throwers.

In Jerusalem, Israeli police trying to prevent new unrest blocked Muslim worshipers under age 45 from noon prayers at the site. In an Old City alley leading to the compound, helmeted police formed a cordon and pushed back angry worshipers with clubs.

When the muezzin announced the start of prayers, those kept out by the Israelis spread their prayer mats on the cobblestones of the alley.

Overall, the day's scattered incidents marked a sharp decrease from Thursday's violence, which, combined with an apparent terrorist attack on a U.S. destroyer in Yemen, generated fears the conflict may be spinning out of control.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who earlier this week had rebuffed Clinton's suggestion that Mubarak host a summit in Egypt, telephoned Clinton and told him that he would, in fact, be willing to host a summit.

Mubarak's offer was quickly welcomed by Clinton and Barak, who seemed to have softened his conditions for agreeing to sit down with Arafat.

Rather than insisting on a complete cessation of hostilities before he agrees to attend a summit, the Washington Post reported, Barak now is willing to settle for a Palestinian declaration to that effect. The Post quoted an Israeli official in Washington as emphasizing, however, that Barak will cancel his plan to attend if violence has not ended by the time it opens.

The Washington Post also reported that if there is a summit, participants will aim to lock in a cease-fire by reaching agreement on security measures such as separating Israeli and Palestinian adversaries.

Barak and Arafat were on the verge of initialing such an accord in Paris last week when Arafat stormed out of the talks, angered by Barak's refusal to accept an international inquiry into the causes of the violence.

The summit also would seek to produce a compromise on that issue and, in fact, the outlines of such a deal already have begun to emerge. While Barak had previously insisted that Israel and the Palestinians should investigate the violence on their own under U.S. supervision, the Israeli leader now is willing to accept a multinational panel so long as it is American-led, Post said, citing the Israeli official.

Despite the harsh rhetoric of Thursday, there were signs Friday that the Palestinian leadership was pulling back from direct confrontation.

In Ramallah, Palestinian police apparently tried to stop demonstrators from marching toward Israeli positions. In Gaza, Palestinian police blocked a march from reaching a contested intersection that has been the scene of clashes with Israeli soldiers; angry protesters instead torched shops and restaurants in Gaza City.

In addition, Arafat said his Palestinian Authority will conduct a "very serious investigation" into the killing of the Israeli soldiers and arrest those responsible.

-- Information from the Associated Press and New York Times was used in this report.

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