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A summit likely on Palestine-Israel issue

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October 14, 2000 


JERUSALEM, OCT 13 (AP) - Israel and the Palestinians on Friday were close to arranging a weekend summit that would include the United States, Egypt, Jordan and the United Nations in a high-level attempt to end more than two weeks of violence, Palestinian officials said.

Israeli officials confirmed that the terms of a summit were being negotiated, but said no agreement had been reached yet.

A gun battle erupted Friday between Israeli troops and Palestinian gunmen in the West Bank town of Ramallah. In Jerusalem, Israeli police beat back young Palestinians outside a major Jerusalem mosque.

Despite the new violence, Israel and the Palestinians appeared to be moving toward a summit that would be held Saturday or Sunday in Egypt, according to senior Palestinian officials who requested anonymity.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak were both expected to attend, and the summit was also likely to include representatives from Egypt, the United States, Jordan and the United Nations, the officials said.

However, the final details had not been worked out, and the Israelis and Palestinians were not dealing directly with each other due to the recent hostilities, the officials added.

As a condition for attending the summit, the Palestinians demanded that Israel withdraw its troops from the outskirts of Palestinian cities and lift its siege of Palestinian communities in the West Bank, according to the officials.

Barak's spokesman, Gadi Baltiansky, confirmed that negotiations on a summit were under way, but said nothing had been decided.

World leaders have sought, without success, to calm two weeks of fighting that escalated Thursday when two Israeli soldiers were mutilated by a mob of enraged Palestinians. Israel responded with combat helicopters that fired rockets at key Palestinian targets, including Arafat's residential compound in the Gaza Strip.

Despite the fierce Israeli helicopter attacks, it was the first day since the violence broke out that not a single Palestinian was killed. The Israelis warned the Palestinians they would be targeting key buildings, which were hurriedly evacuated and were empty when they were hit.

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan has been most prominent among a group of diplomats trying to broker a truce to the Israeli-Palestinian bloodletting that has left 94 dead, the vast majority Palestinian. Annan was meeting with both Israeli and Palestinian leaders on Friday.

Asked about the possibility of a summit, Arafat said Thursday night, "The most important thing before a summit is to stop the aggression against our people." There was no other immediate confirmation of a summit from any side.

Palestinians declared Friday a "day of rage."

In Ramallah, several gunmen fought with Israeli troops following a rock-throwing protest. In Jerusalem's Old City, scuffles broke out between police and young Palestinian men as Muslims arrived for midday prayers at the Noble Sanctuary compound, the third holiest site in Islam.

Muslim men under 45 were turned back on the reasoning that they would be most likely to participate in rioting. Police with clubs hit young Palestinian men attempting to enter the compound, and Palestinians heaved stones and bottles. At least two Palestinians and one policeman were hurt.

"They won't allow me to go and pray," said Abu Abdullah Sahir, 29. "After everything else that has happened this makes me very angry."

The current round of violence broke out Sept. 28 after hawkish Israeli leader Ariel Sharon visited the compound, which Jews call the Temple Mount and revere as the holiest site in Judaism.

Thursday's chaos prompted some of the most bitter accusations yet between Israelis and Palestinians. An angry Barak lashed out at Arafat, questioning the Palestinian leader's commitment to peace.

Israeli tanks have ringed some Palestinian cities and the army clamped an internal closure on the areas, preventing Arab residents from leaving their communities. Near the West Bank town of Hebron, several Palestinian motorists trying to sneak out through backroads had their tires shot out by Israeli soldiers who took the keys to the vehicles, witnesses said.

Overnight, eight missiles were fired on a Palestinian police academy in Jericho after the centuries-old "Peace Upon Israel," synagogue there was burned.

Meanwhile, a politically weak Barak said he was trying to form a unity government. He held talks late Thursday with parliament faction leaders, including Sharon, and invited his right-wing Likud party to join an emergency coalition. Sharon has rebuffed Barak in the past, but the prime minister said the two leaders would continue to talk through the weekend.

For Palestinians, Sharon's inclusion in the government would be seen as a sign Barak was rapidly changing directions on peacemaking. Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat called Sharon, "the death kiss to the peace process."

There had been signs that Israeli-Palestinian violence was waning earlier this week but it erupted anew when the Israeli reservists inadvertently made a wrong turn and ended up near the center of Ramallah, where they were killed by a Palestinian mob.

Still, the brutal killing incensed Israelis.

Israel's two mass-circulation newspapers ran large photos of the attack on their front pages Friday. Under a headline, "A lynching of IDF soldiers," the Yediot Ahronot daily showed a Palestinian man leaning out of the second-floor window of the Ramallah police station, raising his bloodied hands in triumph. A second photo showed the body of one Israeli soldier being dropped from the window.

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