Despite U.N. efforts, Arafat won’t parley

Associated Press

JERUSALEM – Despite international pressure, Yasser Arafat on Friday refused to attend a Mideast summit until Israel agrees to stop firing at Palestinian demonstrators at flashpoints in the West Bank and Gaza.

In the West Bank, violence persisted with two Palestinians killed by Israel gunfire. In Jerusalem, Israeli police masquerading as Palestinians seized two Arab teen-agers throwing stones at the U.S. Consulate and beat them while holding them in a choke hold.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan led diplomatic efforts to bring together Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak at a U.S.-led summit at Egypt’s Sinai resort of Sharm el-Sheik. After meeting Arafat, Annan said he was optimistic a summit could be held in Egypt within two days.

President Clinton called Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and other Arab leaders to win their backing for a summit. Mubarak spoke with Arafat six times over the past 24 hours to try to persuade him to attend, Israel TV’s Channel Two said. Annan was headed for Egypt Stoday.

Palestinian officials were skeptical, though they said mediation efforts would continue.

“Israel must stop its attacks, and if Barak does not agree to the Palestinian conditions, there will not be a summit,” Palestinian negotiator Nabil Shaath said.

Arafat wants Israel to withdraw troops from the entrances of Palestinian cities, lift a siege of West Bank towns and agree to the establishment of an international commission of inquiry into the violence.

Barak also appeared reluctant. “We have no problem with attending a summit that will stop the violence,” Barak told Israeli TV. “We are not willing to get there by rewarding violence.”

Across the West Bank, Palestinians marched to protest Israel’s rocket attacks Thursday against Palestinian government buildings, including police stations and broadcast centers.

Israel fired the missiles as retribution for the brutal killing of two Israeli reserve soldiers by a Palestinian mob in a police station in the West Bank town of Ramallah.

Standing on the ruins of the police station hit by Israeli rockets, Marwan Barghouti, the West Bank leader of Arafat’s Fatah movement, exhorted a cheering crowd to stand tough. “This is our fight and we defy Barak and his tanks and planes,” said Barghouti, who has been singled out by Barak as the mastermind of shooting attacks on Israelis.

Later, a firefight erupted between some of the demonstrators and Israeli troops manning a checkpoint north of Ramallah.

In the West Bank town of Hebron, a 22-year-old Palestinian was killed in what the Israeli army said was a gunbattle between Israeli troops and gunmen mingling with Palestinian rock-throwers in the center of town. Later, a second Palestinian was killed by Israeli fire in clashes in the refugee camp of Al Fawar south of Hebron.

Ninety-six people, most Palestinians, have been killed in 16 days of clashes triggered by the visit of Israel’s hard-line opposition leader, Ariel Sharon, to a Jerusalem shrine holy to Jews and Muslims.

Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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