- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 19, 2000

JERUSALEM Despite scattered clashes, a U.S.-brokered truce between Israelis and Palestinians appeared to be taking hold yesterday, with a drop in violence and the convening of bilateral security meetings.
But a key Palestinian faction pledged to continue its resistance until Israel withdrew from the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The United States voiced guarded optimism over the first moves taken by Israelis and Palestinians to implement the cease-fire, reached at an emergency summit in Sharm el Sheik, Egypt.
"I think we are beginning to see some of the results of Sharm," U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright told reporters on her way home from the Middle East.
"I think that we have to look at it a step at a time and be relatively encouraged by what has just happened."
Earlier, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Mrs. Albright sought a promise of help from Syrian President Bashar Assad in freeing three Israeli soldiers and a reserve colonel kidnapped by the Islamic group Hezbollah.
"He did say he understood that it was important," Mrs. Albright said as she flew home from the meeting with Mr. Assad, Saudi King Fahd and Crown Prince Abdullah, his son and designated successor.
Asked if Mr. Assad would help, Mrs. Albright replied: "That was not the impression I got."
Meanwhile, both the Israelis and the Palestinians took steps to comply with the accord. Israel lifted a siege of Palestinian cities and announced a 48-hour countdown had started for halting the fighting that killed at least 106 persons, almost all of them Arabs.
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, in a statement broadcast on television and radio, gave "strict orders to all Palestinians involved to follow through on the implementation" of summit agreements, to eschew violence and help calm the situation.
Despite the call, the leader of the Tanzim, a group affiliated with Mr. Arafat's own Fatah faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said Palestinians would continue taking to the streets.
"We will continue with our struggle until the occupation ends, until we can implement our right of return and establish our state with Jerusalem as its capital," said Marwan Barghoutti, interviewed in his Ramallah office in the West Bank under a picture of Mr. Arafat.
Tanzim has been the engine for nearly three weeks of Palestinian protests. Violence still flared in the West Bank and Gaza Strip yesterday although it was less fierce than the deadly street battles that have swept the two areas.
At least 35 Palestinians were wounded in clashes in which Israeli soldiers fired rubber-coated bullets in response to stone throwing and Molotov cocktails, witnesses said.
The army said an Israeli civilian was wounded by gunfire in the Gaza Strip, where shots also were fired at a military convoy and an outpost. Two bombs exploded in the Gaza Strip as an armored bus carrying about 50 Jewish settlers passed by. No one was hurt.
The Islamic group Hamas, which is determined to continue the confrontation, said 25 of its members who were released in the past three weeks had been re-arrested.
Israel said many top militants were still on the loose and cautioned the public that a security warning was still in effect.
The dismantling of an Israeli army checkpoint that had sealed off the Palestinian city of Ramallah in the West Bank underlined the lingering distrust.
The cement blocks used as a barricade were only moved to the side of the road, not taken away.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, while ordering his army to implement the summit cease-fire, said he still feared Israel may no longer have a peace partner in the Palestinian leadership.
"I am sorry to say that I am not convinced that at this time we have a partner for the difficult and courageous decisions needed for peace," Mr. Barak said.
In the same speech, Mr. Barak issued an impassioned appeal to political rivals to join his teetering government as prospects for the success of the cease-fire remained clouded.
"I say to Arik Sharon … and all party leaders, there will be time enough for politics and mutual recriminations," Mr. Barak said, using the nickname of right-winger Ariel Sharon, head of the main opposition Likud bloc.
"These are days of fire and struggle a time of emergency. Let us put all our internal differences aside and devote all our energy to waging a joint struggle against all the difficulties that lay ahead."
Earlier, Mr. Sharon spurned an invitation from Mr. Barak to meet for discussions on forming a unity government that could win the support of a sweeping majority of Israelis.
"[Mr. Barak is] willing to give up on historical and strategic properties though we won't reach the end of the conflict. That's a very serious mistake, Mr. Sharon told Israel Radio.

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