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Clinton calls upon Arafat & Barak to 'move beyond blame'

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October 17, 2000 


SHARM EL-SHEIK, Egypt (AP) - Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat sat face-to-face at a table with U.S. President Bill Clinton and other leaders in an emergency summit Monday. "We have to move beyond blame," Clinton declared.

The tense summit included U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, a European Union representative and key regional leaders. It opened as new violence tore through the West Bank. A gunbattle erupted near Nablus and Palestinians threw rocks at Israeli soldiers in two other towns.

"We cannot afford to fail," Clinton said. "The future of the peace process and the stability of the region are at stake."

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, summit host, called for "saving what is left of the credibility of the peace process."

He pointed the finger at Israel, saying, "The aggressions to which the Palestinian people were subjected during the last two weeks persuaded me to convene this meeting."

Clinton, however, said that in an atmosphere "piled high with grievance ... we have to move beyond blame."

The leaders were trying to end the recent mayhem on the West Bank and Gaza that has cost nearly 100 lives and fractured whatever trust remained between Israel and the Palestinians.

Almost wistfully, Clinton called attention to "how far we had gone" from conflict only a few months ago before the U.S.-driven peace process collapsed and the region exploded in violence.

On a key issue, Clinton called for a fact-finding mission to probe the causes of the most serious fighting between the Israelis and Palestinians in years and to prevent a recurrence.

"We want to get negotiations started again," he said.

After Clinton and Mubarak made opening remarks, the meeting took a recess.

Each country's team kept to itself. Barak stood up and talked to his advisers. Clinton turned in his chair to speak with National Security Adviser Sandy Berger and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

The leaders sat about three meters apart around a horseshoe table, with Clinton and Mubarak sitting at the head. Also at the table were King Abdullah II of Jordan and Javier Solana, EU security chief.

With a little more than three months left in his presidency, Clinton still hopes to broker a peace accord. But for this summit, the most optimistic outlook is for a truce and a date set for new negotiations between the two sides.

"We shouldn't give it all up for what has happened in the last few weeks," he said.

Barak was first to arrive for the emergency summit at this Egyptian Red Sea spa, followed by Clinton and Arafat.

After a 10-hour flight from Washington, Clinton was followed down the steps of Albright.

Arafat, Barak and Clinton each met separately with Mubarak before the summit gathering.

Barak told Mubarak that he would not pull back Israeli forces or reopen Palestinian areas until Arafat re-arrests dozens of militants released from Palestinian jails in recent days and tells security forces to stop shooting and participating in street rioting, according to a senior Israeli official.

Arafat, while agreeing reluctantly to the summit, showed no indication, publicly at least, of curbing his demands.

"We are on the way to Jerusalem until a Palestinian child raises the Palestinian flag on the walls of Jerusalem," he said Sunday.

Arafat's top adviser, Nabil Aburdeneh, said the two sides were now at a crossroads. "Either we return back to the way of peace or we continue this deadlock."

Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami said it would be hard to bridge the gap between the two sides. "I think there is a wide divide of misunderstanding, hostility and frustration," he told Israel Army radio.

Clinton hopes to return home in time for a memorial service Wednesday in Norfolk, Virginia, to honor the 17 U.S. sailors killed in an attack Thursday on a U.S. destroyer at the southern tip of the Arabian peninsula.

Setting the tone for the Untied States, Albright said Sunday that the peace process was the "only road" away from violence.

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