- The Washington Times - Monday, October 9, 2000

TIBERIAS, Israel Prime Minister Ehud Barak yesterday told Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat that if the violence wracking Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip does not stop by this evening, he will consider the peace talks over.
In Washington, a senior administration official said the White House was working to arrange a meeting soon between President Clinton and the region's leaders in an effort to save Middle East peace.
CNN reported that Mr. Clinton had suggested a summit at Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt, possibly as early as the middle of this week.
Israelis today marked their holiest day, Yom Kippur, by fasting until sundown, with the specter of battle on two fronts.
Eleven days of violence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip combined with mounting tension on the Lebanon border over the capture of three soldiers by Islamic guerrillas has revived among many Israelis old feelings of embattlement and siege on this Day of Atonement.
Some drew a parallel to Yom Kippur 27 years ago, when Egyptian and Syrian armies invaded Israel in a surprise attack.
"Yom Kippur 2000 is inextricably linked with Yom Kippur 1973," wrote Nahum Barnea, a popular political commentator in Israel's largest selling newspaper, Yediot Ahronot. "It seems the ring of Arab hatred surrounding Israel was never breached."
While the fighting tapered yesterday in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the casualty toll in Israeli-Palestinian violence since Sept. 28 climbed to 84 with the deaths of a Palestinian and an Israeli. Just before evening, Israelis and Palestinians said they struck a cease-fire, though four previous ones had failed to hold.
Israeli soldiers yesterday found the body of an American-born rabbi shot to death in a cave in the West Bank, and U.S. Jewish leaders called on Mr. Clinton to hold Mr. Arafat responsible.
Jewish leaders in New York said Rabbi Hillel Lieberman, 37, a Jewish settler missing since Saturday, immigrated to Israel 14 years ago. The body of the father of six was found in a cave near a West Bank highway.
Early in the day, Israel went on the offensive, bombing two buildings in the Gaza Strip that Palestinians used to fire on Israeli positions. Reinforcements were also sent to the border with Lebanon.
Mr. Barak accuses Mr. Arafat of orchestrating the violence and has given him until this evening to call it off or face unspecified military measures. He said again yesterday that Israel would consider the peace process dead if the clashes did not grind to a halt.
"If we will not see the difference actively implemented on the ground, and a calming down of the situation really occurring, we will draw the conclusion that Arafat deliberately has decided to abandon the negotiations," Mr. Barak said, while touring Israel's northern border.
He did not specify what Israel would do, but one of his top military aides said Israel would move from a defensive to an offensive posture, and could target Palestinian commanders.
Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright said Mr. Arafat could stop the violence that has raged for 12 days, but also called on Israeli forces to avoid confrontations.
CNN said Mr. Clinton put forward the idea of meetings this week in conversations over the weekend with Mr. Barak, Mr. Arafat and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, but that there had been no agreement from the Israelis and the Palestinians.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan is due to arrive in Tel Aviv late today for meetings with Mr. Barak, Mr. Arafat and other regional leaders, U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said in a statement.
Palestinians say the clashes erupted spontaneously after the visit last month of right-wing opposition leader Ariel Sharon to Jerusalem's Temple Mount, a shrine holy to Jews and Muslims.
Most of those killed in the riots and gunbattles have been Palestinian, but some analysts say Mr. Arafat has come out ahead by recapturing the international sympathy he lost during peace talks at Camp David, Md., in July.
A top aide to Mr. Arafat, Nabil Shaath, said Palestinians now had a condition for the resumption of peace talks.
"When this is done, an international committee can start really finding the facts and then we can move on to instigate business and negotiations," he told reporters.
The bloodletting, coming as Israel and the Palestinians were engaged in a peacemaking end game, showed how quickly the region moves from negotiation to confrontation and how religion plays a volatile role. In the past two days alone, Jews and Muslims have burned each other's religious shrines.
On Friday, Israel pulled troops out of Joseph's Tomb, a Jewish place of worship in the Arab town of Nablus. Within hours, Palestinians tore up the shrine and torched it.
A day later, Jews in the town of Tiberias vandalized an old mosque, which is not in use.
The outburst in Tiberias followed a cross-border raid by guerrillas of the Islamic Hezbollah group, who captured three Israeli soldiers. One of the soldiers, Adi Avitan, grew up in Tiberias, just a two-hour drive from the site of the ambush.
Sgt. Avitan's relatives gathered at the family home in Tiberias yesterday, waiting for word from the government on efforts to free the soldiers.
"We told representatives of the government that we hope Israel will spare no effort to bring the soldiers back home," Sgt. Avitan's uncle, Yoel Avitan, told a reporter.
Mr. Barak has said he would hold Syria, Lebanon's political master, responsible for the soldiers' well-being. Other government officials said Israel has already sought out mediators who could help bring about a swap for Lebanese prisoners jailed in the Jewish state.
Syrian Foreign Minister Farouq Shara rejected Israeli finger pointing: "No one of us wants to launch a war."
This article is based in part on wire service reports

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide