Peace still MIA in Mideast

Associated Press

SHARM EL-SHEIK, Egypt — In an atmosphere of high tension and mistrust, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat met warily at an emergency summit aimed at halting bloody clashes in the Mideast. Hours of talks yielded no cease-fire agreement by early today.

President Clinton pressed his diplomatic drive into the early hours, meeting with Arafat and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak until past 1 a.m. local time, then meeting with Barak. The eventual outcome was uncertain.

After meeting with Clinton and Mubarak, Arafat told reporters who asked about an agreement, "Not yet, not yet."

An Egyptian official, Nabil Osman, said the seven leaders participating in the summit would gather together again later Tthis morning.

The White House refused to characterize the talks, although Israeli officials were downbeat. "I’m not going to say we’re optimistic or pessimistic," said Jake Siewert, the president’s press secretary. "We’re just working."

The main hangup was Arafat’s insistence for an international fact-finding commission to assess the causes of the violence, an Israeli official said. Israel says it will only accept a panel led by the United States, its closest ally.

Clinton was expected to meet again with Arafat, but it was not clear when that would occur. The marathon talks, lasting well past 14 hours, prompted the president to extend his stay into this morning, rather than departing Monday night as planned.

Siewert said there were no eruptions in any of Clinton’s meetings. "People have been straightforward, focused on solutions and not finger-pointing," Siewert said.

Barak, meanwhile, insisted on a halt to Palestinian attacks on Israeli soldiers and civilians and the re-arrest of extremists from the Hamas and Islamic Jihad movements who were released this past week.

Clinton implored both sides "to move beyond blame" after more than two weeks of armed clashes on the West Bank and Gaza Strip that have left about 100 people dead, most of them Palestinians.

Fighting flared anew less than an hour after the summit opened. Israeli soldiers opened fire at Palestinian gunmen and rock-throwers. A Palestinian police officer and a 15-year-old boy were killed and dozens of civilians were wounded by Israeli fire.

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 This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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