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Both sides agree to work toward cease-fire

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October 18, 2000 


SHARM EL-SHEIK (AP/Bangla2000) - Israel and the Palestinians agreed Tuesday to end the violence that has torn their region apart for more than two weeks and to get back on the path toward a permanent solution to their conflict.

Both sides agreed to a cease-fire, but violence continued in the immediate aftermath of the agreement announced by U.S. President Bill Clinton at an emergency summit. Both sides also agreed to explore a resumption in the negotiations for a permanent peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

"We achieved our goals at this summit," said Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak.

He said at a news conference upon his return home that "after 48 hours, if we see there is calm" Israel will pull back its forces to where they had been before the outbreak of the crisis.

"Let me emphasize that the real test of all the understandings and agreements is implementation," the prime minister added.

Jibril Rajoub, the Palestinian security chief in the West Bank, said, "The ball is now in the Israeli court. It's they who created this crisis, they are the ones who used acts of killing and terrorism against our people. What is needed now is for them to take all the necessary measures to stop this violence."

On his return to Gaza, Arafat said the all-important question is whether the agreement will be carried out.

"We expect that the implementation will be exactly as we agreed upon," Arafat.

Clinton did not use the term "cease-fire" in announcing the accord at the end of the two-day summit at this seaside resort. Instead, he said both sides agreed on "immediate concrete measures" to end the violence.

"I believe we have made real progress today," Clinton said. "Repairing the damage will take time."

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in a statement that he was "relieved and thankful" Barak and Arafat had "stepped back from the abyss and renewed their commitment" to work for peace.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who opened the summit pointedly blaming Israel for recent violence, said the outcome "may not meet the expectations of all peoples." It takes a step, however, toward resuming permanent peace efforts "after the region is stabilized," he said.

U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright told CNN that the two sides were to meet with American mediators within two week to explore the possibility of resuming the long-range talks.

Barak was more cautious about that, saying the Americans would examine over the next two weeks whether a resumption of peace talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians is feasible.

He said such a step is "logical," but "I don't know what the results will be."

Clinton announced the summit's end at a photo session at which he was surrounded by representatives of the seven entities that had worked it out: Israel, the Palestinians, the United States, Eqypt, Jordan, the United Nations and the European Union.

With that Clinton boarded Air Force One, hurrying home for a memorial service for the 17 sailors killed last Thursday in an apparent terrorist attack on the USS Cole in Yemen.

Barak and Yasser Arafat left the ceremony without saying anything.

Still, it was clear from Clinton's announcement that both sides made major compromises.

Arafat backed away from his demand for an international fact-finding commission into the causes of the turmoil on the West Bank, in Gaza and in Israel. Barak yielded to demands that he pull back Israeli troops that have killed scores of Palestinians.

In a concession, a U.S. official said, Arafat agreed to rearrest the Islamic militants who were released from jail last week - one of Israel's demands.

Barak, speaking later, told an Israeli television station, "The coming days will tell whether we still have a partner. Reality has to change in a significant way. The events of the last few weeks left their mark on us ... we will examine, as will the Americans, whether it is possible to renew the negotiations."

But in the immediate aftermath of the summit announcement, Palestinian militiamen shot at homes in a Jewish neighborhood of Jerusalem and Israel responded with tank-mounted machine gun fire. An Israeli policeman was critically wounded when Palestinian gunmen fired on Jewish homes in Jerusalem.

Earlier, a Palestinian farmer was shot dead by Jewish settlers.

Word of the truce was greeted by skepticism from both Israelis and Palestinians.

In the Gaza Strip, hundreds of Palestinians threw rocks and several firebombs at an Israeli military checkpoint. Palestinian medics said 10 demonstrators were hurt, including one who was in serious condition. The Israeli army said a sniper shot and injured a firebomb thrower, but that there were no additional casualties.

Clinton spelled out the three elements of the agreement:

-Both sides agreed to publicly call for an end to violence, eliminate points of friction, maintain calm and the recurrence of the recent uprisings. He said the United States will help with security issues, if needed.

-The United States will develop with both sides and the UN a fact-finding committee to investigate the events of the past several weeks.

- The leaders agreed that the United States will consult with the parties within the next two weeks about how to move forward.

"We should have no illusions about the difficulties ahead," Clinton said. "If we are going to rebuild confidence and trust we must all do our part, avoiding recrimination and moving forward. I'm counting on each of us to do everything we possibly can in the critical period ahead."

Away in Bethlehem, In a spate of gunbattles hours, two Palestinians were shot dead and an Israeli policeman was critically wounded when Palestinian militiamen fired on a Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem.

The widespread violence erupted despite a Mideast summit that produced a truce announced Tuesday by U.S. President Bill Clinton.

Clinton's announcement, made at the end of an emergency conference in Sharm el-Sheik, Egypt, was met with extreme skepticism by both Israelis and Palestinians. Clashes that began early Tuesday before the summit ended, carried on afterward. More than 100 people have now been killed, most of them Palestinians, in 20 straight days of fighting.

In the Jewish neighborhood of Gilo in southern Jerusalem, Palestinian gunmen fired shots at several homes Tuesday afternoon shortly after the summit ended. Two tanks, deployed in the neighborhood after an earlier Palestinian attack, returned fire from mounted machine guns, said Jerusalem police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby.

One Israeli border policeman was shot and was in critical condition, and one Israeli civilian was lightly injured as Israreli security forces evacuated residents from their homes.

"There is a lot of shooting now. Our window was hit again," said a tearful Anna Strekma, whose house was hit in an earlier firefight.

The Israeli military told Palestinians in adjacent neighborhoods to evacuate their houses. If the Palestinian gunmen continue shooting, "we will fire both from the tanks and from attack helicopters," Israeli Maj. Gen. Yitzhak Eitan said in an interview with Channel 2 television.

In a separate attack, the Palestinian farmer, Farid Nasrara, 28, was killed by Jewish settlers near the West Bank town of Nablus when he was hit in the abdomen by automatic rifle fire, according to witnesses and hospital doctors. Three Palestinian villagers were also injured.

Palestinian witnesses said the shooting was unprovoked. But Yehoshua Mor-Yosef, a settler spokesman, said the farmers first attacked the settlers with knives and iron bars, and that the settlers fired warning shots in the air before aiming at the Palestinians. Two settlers were arrested by Israeli police.

In the Gaza Strip, hundreds of Palestinians threw rocks and several firebombs at an Israeli military checkpoint in morning clashes that left 10 injured. In renewed fighting in the afternoon, a Palestinian policeman was killed by a bullet to the chest, hospital doctors said.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat both headed home to constituents who predicted the truce would not hold.

"Clinton, Barak and Arafat are lying to themselves if they think they made a truce," said Daoud Mughtar, a 58-year-old Palestinian in the biblical town of Bethlehem. "I'll believe it when I see it."

Amos Geuta, the Jewish manager of a bakery, sounded equally pessimistic. "Barak was wasting his time there. In another day or two you will see, it will get worse."

Both Barak and Arafat are required to make a public statement denouncing violence, and agreed to return to security cooperation that was cut off at the start of the violence three weeks ago.

"The important thing after the talks yesterday and today is the implementation," Arafat said as he returned to Gaza. "We expect that the implementation will be exactly as we agreed upon."

Leaders of Arafat's Fatah faction said they were upset by the outcome.

"Fatah people and supporters were against the summit and we know that Arafat went there because of pressure on him," said Bassam Naim, the Fatah leader in the West Bank town of Nablus. "We cannot accept the resumption of security coordination."

Fatah's armed militias have often been involved in shooting attacks on Israelis, and it was not clear whether Arafat could now order them to cease fire.

Wary Israeli officials said they would closely watch Palestinian efforts to stop violence. Barak, speaking in Sharm el-Sheik, said that "the test will be in the results."

As the summit ended, thousands of Palestinians chanting "revenge, revenge," buried Muayed Darwish, a 15-year-old boy killed Monday in clashes. Mourners first gathered in Bethlehem's Manger Square, adjacent to the Church of the Nativity where tradition says Jesus was born.

Some yelled, "No to Sharm el-Sheik, yes to armed struggle." One marcher, Khalil Azea, 17, took two bullets from his left pocket. "That's what the Israelis understand and that's what we will fight for," he said. "We don't believe in peace anymore."

Later, several dozen Palestinians broke from the procession and walked to Rachel's Tomb, an Israeli enclave in Bethlehem. They hurled stones and bottles, and Israel responded with rubber-coated steel pellets.

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