- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 9, 2000

The Palestinian Authority will seek a U.N. protection force despite opposition by Israel and by U.N. chief Kofi Annan, said a Palestinian official, who also called for Nelson Mandela to join a U.S.-named commission investigating Middle East violence.

The dispute over a U.N. force came as Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat headed to Washington amid a new flare-up of violence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Palestinian gunmen ambushed and killed an Israeli customs worker as she traveled to work, and four Palestinians died in clashes with Israeli troops.

Mr. Arafat was expected in Washington last night for meetings with President Clinton today. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak arrives for separate talks at the White House on Sunday.

Both the United States and Mr. Annan have said there would be no international protection force unless Israel agrees, a prospect that appears unlikely since Israel fears foreign troops would be used by Palestinians to shield snipers and stone throwers.

"The Palestinians have been pushing for this since the crisis started" Sept. 28, said Israel Embassy spokesman Mark Regev.

"I'd say it's a nonstarter. Increased international involvement and criticizing American involvement in the peace process bring into question the foundation of the peace process we have been dealing with the last several years."

Mr. Annan, the U.N. secretary-general, said Tuesday in New York that before a U.N. force can be installed between combatants, "we need both parties to agree, [and] as the Israeli government made it clear that it would not cooperate, I did not see how the troops could be deployed."

However, the chief Palestinian spokesman in Washington, Hasan Abdel Rahman, said yesterday that Mr. Annan cannot rule out such a force.

"Since the Palestinian people are being subjected to military aggression by the [Israeli] occupying force in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the protection of civilian populations in times of war, then it is the Security Council that will decide" on an international force, he said.

The death toll rose again yesterday to 181 since the crisis began, all but a dozen of them Arabs.

Three Palestinians, ages 14, 16 and 18, were shot dead by Israeli soldiers in clashes at the Karni crossing on the Israel-Gaza border and at Khan Younis, also in the Gaza Strip, hospital officials said. Another 14-year-old Palestinian was killed in Hares, a village in the West Bank.

Palestinian gunmen ambushed an Israeli car driving to the Rafah border crossing with Egypt in Gaza, killing an Israeli woman and seriously wounding a 4-year-old passenger, an Israeli army spokesman said. The killing was claimed in Beirut by the radical militant Omar al-Mukhtar Forces.

In retaliation, Israel shut down the crossing and Gaza's airport, which it jointly controls with the Palestinians.

Mr. Rahman yesterday voiced the first public Palestinian support for the investigating commission named by Mr. Clinton, which will look into the causes of the current violence.

The commission, agreed to at the Oct. 17 summit in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el Sheik, will be headed by former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell, who negotiated the Good Friday peace agreement in Northern Ireland.

Other members of the commission include former Sen. Warren Rudman, former Turkish President Suleyman Demirel, European Union foreign and security affairs chief Javier Solana and Norwegian Foreign Minister Thorbjoern Jagland.

The commission is to submit a report on its findings, first to Mr. Annan and then to the public.

"We have a great deal of respect for the members of this committee," said Mr. Rahman.

"We also requested to expand this committee to include [former South African] President Nelson Mandela because he is a man of internationally respected integrity and credibility, Mr. Rahman said.

Mr. Annan acknowledged Arab efforts to restructure the peace process, which since 1993 has been run by the United States as the sole mediator between Israelis and Palestinians.

"Discussions have been floating around that the format of the peace process may have to be modified slightly," Mr. Annan said. "I know that this is the wish of Chairman Arafat and also quite a few of the Arab countries, but the mediator, which is the United States, and others, as well as the parties, will also have a word to say about this."

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