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Barak & Arafat hold unscheduled meetings with UN secretary general
October 12, 2000
JERUSALEM (AP) - With tension easing somewhat, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan held unexpected talks Wednesday with the Israeli and Palestinian leaders in hopes of mediating a truce and paving the way for the resumption of peace talks.
As Annan shuttled between Jerusalem and Gaza City, a gun battle erupted between Palestinian gunmen and Israeli troops along a West Bank highway. Israeli troops fired tank machine guns toward the gunmen who weaved in and out of alleys of a Palestinian village. Four helicopter gunships hovered above. The violence erupted as the funeral convoy of an American-born Jewish settler passed by the area.
Annan held separate, unscheduled meetings Wednesday morning with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said Annan might extend his mission and delay a visit to Beirut, scheduled for later Wednesday. "We haven't finished our work here yet," Eckhard told The Associated Press.
Annan is trying to broker an Israeli-Palestinian truce and also help win the return of three Israeli soldiers captured by Lebanese guerrillas over the weekend.
In parallel efforts, U.S. President Bill Clinton is trying to convene a Mideast summit in the next few days in hopes of rescuing Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking.
Palestinian sources say Clinton has offered to come to Israel and to the Palestinian areas for separate talks, and then convene a three-way meeting with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak.
Barak has said he is ready to attend such a gathering in principle, but wants to see stronger efforts by Arafat to quell the violence that has claimed 88 lives in the past two weeks. Most of those killed and injured were Palestinians.
The Israeli prime minister on Wednesday accused the Palestinian Authority of encouraging possible terror attacks in Israel, noting that Arafat has released several Islamic militants from prison in recent days.
"I call on the (Israeli) public to be alert, but the responsibility for possible terror attacks lies first of all with those who carry them out, those who send them (the assailants), and those who permit the release of Hamas and Islamic Jihad members from prison," Barak told reporters.
The Palestinians, meanwhile, were cool to U.S. efforts to convene a summit. An Arab summit is scheduled for Oct. 21, and Arafat's adviser, Nabil Aburdeneh, said it would make little sense to hold a U.S.-led Israeli-Palestinian meeting before that.
Egypt has resisted U.S. requests to host a Mideast summit.
Clinton said Tuesday he would not give up. "We've been working like crazy for the last several days to help do our part. I just have to believe they're not going to let this thing spin out of control," Clinton said at a dinner Tuesday.
The level of violence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip has dropped considerably in recent days. However, several areas of friction remained, including the West Bank town of Nablus and the nearby Jewish settlement of Elon Moreh.
On Wednesday afternoon, hundreds of mourners joined the funeral procession of Hillel Lieberman, an American-born Elon Moreh settler who was killed over the weekend as he made his way to the Joseph's Tomb enclave in Nablus.
After the cortege of buses and cars set out from Elon Moreh, it passed a Palestinian hamlet south of Nablus. At some point, children from the village hurled stones and mourners got off the buses, firing shots in the air.
Eventually a gun battle erupted, though the circumstances of the escalation were not immediately clear. Israeli troops fired machine guns mounted on tanks at gunmen hiding between homes in the hamlet, and four helicopter gunships were brought in, but did not fire.
Also Wednesday, several dozen Palestinians threw rocks at Israeli soldiers in the divided West Bank town of Hebron. The teen-agers had broken away from a march of about 500 Palestinians protesting the presence of Jewish settlers in the city. "Down with the olive branch, up with the rifles" and "Kofi Annan, we want a state," read two of the banners.
Near the West Bank settlement of Eli, a Jewish settler was killed when a car, driven by a Palestinian, overturned and struck a group of Israelis standing by the roadside. Police said they believed it was an accident, while settler leaders portrayed the incident as a terror attack.
In the Gaza Strip, a 12-year-old Palestinian boy lay brain dead Wednesday, a day after being shot by Israeli troops during a stone-throwing clash.
The relative calm of the past few days was attributed, in part, to the presence of high-profile mediators. Annan, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, European Union security chief Javier Solana and EU peace envoy Miguel Moratinos were shuttling between Gaza and Jerusalem. British Foreign Minister Robin Cook was expected to meet Barak later Wednesday.
One of the disputes holding up a summit is a Palestinian demand that an international commission of inquiry be formed to look into the violence. The Palestinians say Israel has used excessive force, while Israel says its troops only fire in life-threatening situations.
Barak said he would accept an inquiry "under the authority and responsibility of the United States," while the Palestinians want the United Nations to be involved.