Mideast cease-fire set up

Associated Press

GAZA INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT, Gaza Strip – In a somber meeting marked by skepticism on both sides, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres announced plans Wednesday to formalize a shaky cease-fire and end a year of Mideast fighting.

But even as the leaders met in the southern Gaza Strip, shooting broke out just a few miles away, killing a 16-year-old boy in the Rafah refugee camp.

And just before midnight Wednesday, four Israeli tanks and a bulldozer advanced toward the Rafah camp, Palestinian security officials said. The camp was shelled and hit by heavy machine gun fire, and the bulldozer began demolishing a house, the officials said.

Palestinian gunmen returned fire. In the exchange, a 23-year-old Palestinian was killed and 11 others wounded, doctors said.

The Israeli army said it was checking the report.

The United States had been pressing hard for the cease-fire meeting, and the two sides agreed to resume security cooperation that had long since collapsed.

“No one came with great joy, and everyone has grounds to worry if this agreement will be implemented on the ground, but it was an important meeting,” Peres said afterward.

One difference quickly emerged: The Israelis want five weeks of calm as a testing period before moving ahead with confidence-building steps, while the Palestinians want to limit the period to two weeks, a Palestinian spokesman said.

In a joint statement afterward, the leaders pledged to resume security coordination, with another Peres-Arafat meeting expected in about a week.

A major test of the truce will come Friday when Palestinians plan to mark the first anniversary of the fighting with marches across the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Such marches often lead to confrontations with Israeli troops.

Copyright ©2001 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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