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June 20, 2000 

     

JERUSALEM (AP) - Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Cabinet accused Israel on Sunday of planning to attack the Palestinian areas, after Israel's top soldier warned that a delay in the peace process could lead to fighting.

    

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak insisted his government had only peaceful intentions.

    

During a meeting of Israel's security Cabinet, Lt. Gen. Shaul Mofaz briefed the ministers on the dangers of not making a peace agreement with the Palestinians by September, Israel radio reported.

  

Channel Two television quoted ministers as saying the Cabinet meeting was the first in which they discussed the possibility of the establishment of a Palestinian state and received an update on the

negotiations.

 

Arafat interpreted Mofaz's comments as implicitly threatening violence against the Palestinians if peace talks fall through.

 

"These Israeli statements show an Israeli plan to attack the Palestinian Authority and to attack the Palestinian people in order to uproot our Palestinian nation from its homeland," Arafat's Cabinet said in a statement after a meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

 

"The Palestinian people inside and outside the homeland will not stand silent for one moment," the Cabinet said.

 

The angry reaction signified how tense relations have become between Israel and the Palestinians as peace talks on a final-status accord produce no results, and after clashes last month left six Palestinians dead.

 

Barak hurried to publish a clarification.

 

"The prime minister's office wishes to clarify that the government's face is turned toward a peace agreement with the Palestinians," he said in a statement. Security forces on both sides are in constant contact to prevent misunderstandings, he said.

 

Barak suggested Sunday that he is willing to make new compromises in negotiations on the final status agreement, which the sides hope to work out by Sept. 13. They have fallen far behind a schedule for the talks.

 

"The prime minister said that Israel seeks an agreement and is willing to make decisions that are not easy in order to reach (an agreement) but will also safeguard Israel's essential interests," a statement from Barak's office said.

 

The release did not elaborate, but Arafat has dismissed Barak's offer to transfer to the Palestinians about 70 percent of the West Bank, and is reportedly insisting on at least 85 percent.

      

The Palestinians agreed to a U.S. request to postpone for two weeks an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank scheduled for this week on condition that the Americans press Israel to make the necessary compromises to conclude the framework of a final agreement.

 

"We have an understanding that there will be a delay of one or two weeks," Hassan Abdel Rahman, the PLO representative in Washington, told the Voice of Palestine radio.

 

The U.S. Embassy spokesman, Larry Schwartz, said he could not confirm that an understanding over a delay had been reached. Barak's office also said it did not know of such a delay.

 

Barak has asked Arafat to delay the interim pullback scheduled for Friday and focus instead on reaching a blueprint for a peace treaty, which would delineate the final borders of the Palestinian entity. Palestinian anger over Barak's request led to a one-day suspension of the talks last week.

 

Israeli and Palestinian negotiators have been holding talks in Washington. They are due to resume talks in the region this week, which Israeli media have reported will be held in Cairo.

 

A final peace deal would settle the thorniest issues on the negotiating table, including disputed Jerusalem, the fate of Palestinian refugees and final borders. Arafat has pledged to declare statehood by the September deadline.

 

U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is due in the region on June 25 to prepare for a three-way summit with President Bill Clinton, Barak and Arafat.


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