Pact fails to curb Mideast Violence

Los Angeles Times and Associated Press

SHARM EL SHEIK, Egypt — Concluding a tense summit born of desperation, Israeli and Palestinian leaders agreed Tuesday to urge an end to the growing bloodshed that has convulsed their region.

But new violence flared Tuesday in the West Bank and Gaza Strip even as marathon negotiations in this Red Sea resort reached a finale.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, who once vowed to make lasting peace but now cannot conceal their mutual animosity, offered their commitments separately to President Clinton, who led the emergency meeting at this Red Sea resort.

Clinton and other U.S. officials said the agreement, hammered out during angry, nearly round-the-clock sessions that stretched over more than 24 hours, should finally halt the current Palestinian uprising and the often-repressive steps Israel has used to contain it.

But as news of the Sharm el Sheik agreement began to filter through the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, demonstrators clashed with Israeli forces, marched against any surrender to Israeli demands and waged gunbattles on the outskirts of Jerusalem. A Palestinian police officer was killed in Gaza and a Palestinian civilian was shot to death near the West Bank town of Nablus. Three members of Israeli security forces were wounded.

The head of militias belonging to Arafat’s Fatah political movement, Marwan Barghouti, as well as two other regional Fatah leaders and the heads of militant Islamic groups, vowed Tuesday night that the fight would go on.

More than 100 people, nearly all Palestinian or Israeli Arabs, have been killed and thousands injured in nearly three weeks of street fighting that many Palestinians now regard as their war for independence. The unrest has threatened regional stability by spawning violent demonstrations throughout the Arab world and has all but killed a 7-year-old peace process and the trust that it had built.

The "understandings" reached include taking some practical steps to cool tensions, such as lifting Israel’s blockade of the West Bank and Gaza, reopening the Gaza airport and instituting measures to separate the two sides at points of friction. No specific deadlines were disclosed, however.

Additionally, within two weeks the two sides were to meet with American mediators to explore the possibility of resuming talks, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said.

"We have made important commitments here today against a backdrop of tragedy and crisis," Clinton said as he presided over a curt ceremony to read out the agreement. "Repairing the damage will take time and great effort by all of us."

The concluding statement fell short of even the most minimal expectations of the summit, and there was widespread skepticism that it will alleviate the deadly tensions. The agreement was not put into writing and was not signed by anybody, and it will undoubtedly be a hard sell at home for both Barak and, especially, Arafat.

Barak issued a vaguely worded call to end the violence late Tuesday and added that "Israel intends to implement the understandings which have been drawn up." In a later statement, Arafat said, "Our people will not initiate violence, but our people were the victims of this violence."

Barak stressed that the deal will work only if the Palestinians live up to it. He left little doubt that unless the Arab riots are truly over, Israel will not end its military crackdown. He said Israel will begin to pull back its troops after the West Bank and Gaza Strip have been quiet for at least 48 hours.

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

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