- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 25, 2001

JERUSALEM Long-awaited Israeli-Palestinian truce talks sought by Washington were on hold again yesterday, possibly until next week, after Palestinian gunmen killed an Israeli woman in a West Bank road ambush.
Also yesterday, Israel set up a large military buffer zone in the West Bank that is off-limits to Palestinians except those who live in it. Israel said the zone is meant to prevent attacks by Palestinian militants. Palestinians said Israel was violating earlier peace accords, and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat said the zone marked a "very dangerous escalation."
The United States wants Mr. Arafat and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres to meet as soon as possible to work out a formal cease-fire. Another outbreak of Israeli-Palestinian violence would hamper Washington's efforts to bring Arab and Muslim states into an international alliance against Islamic militants.
However, the meeting, which Mr. Peres and Mr. Arafat have been trying to arrange for the past month, has been postponed repeatedly.
On Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon unexpectedly vetoed talks set for later in the day, saying the Palestinians had not met his condition of restoring calm for at least 48 hours before a meeting. Yesterday, the fatal shooting in the West Bank reset the clock again, said Mr. Sharon's adviser, Raanan Gissin.
"This is not a cease-fire," Mr. Sharon told visiting French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine, according to a statement from the prime minister's office.
Mr. Peres, who has often feuded with Mr. Sharon over the peace talks, said on CNN last night that he intended to meet with Mr. Arafat when the Palestinian leader returns from a trip to Syria later this week.
Mr. Peres said Mr. Arafat "has learned he has to make a choice."
"He cannot have terror and legitimacy at the same time," the Israeli foreign minister said.
U.S. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell has been in touch with both sides by telephone repeatedly to help arrange the talks. Palestinian parliament Speaker Ahmed Qureia said he believed a meeting would not be possible until next week.
Mr. Arafat plans to fly to Damascus for talks with Syrian President Bashar Assad. The Israelis cannot meet later in the week because of the Yom Kippur holiday, which runs from sundown tomorrow to sundown Thursday.
Mr. Peres and Mr. Arafat would be heading into their long-anticipated meeting with most details already worked out in preparatory talks, said Mr. Qureia, who participated in those sessions.
The two sides agreed that at the end of their meeting, the two men would jointly renew their commitment to the terms of a cease-fire brokered earlier by the CIA and to recommendations by the international Mitchell Commission for a resumption of peace talks.
In Gaza City, Mr. Arafat said yesterday that despite the latest delay, he would stick to the informal truce he declared last week. "We are fully committed to all the peace steps we have announced," he said.
The militant Islamic Jihad group claimed responsibility for yesterday's killing of a 28-year-old Israeli woman in the West Bank's Jordan Valley. It was the second deadly roadside ambush since Mr. Arafat's truce announcement. On the Palestinian side, one man was killed by Israeli fire during that period.
Mr. Arafat has told Palestinian security commanders that they must prevent attacks on Israelis, and he has held meetings with heads of various factions, including the Hamas and Islamic Jihad groups, in recent days.
In a letter to gunmen in the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, an offshoot of Mr. Arafat's Fatah movement, the Palestinian leader demanded complete calm. He said he also obtained agreement from Islamic militants that there would be no suicide bombings, said a leading figure of the Martyrs Brigade in the West Bank, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
In Israel, the argument over the truce talks deepened the rift in Mr. Sharon's center-right coalition. Mr. Peres' moderate Labor Party said the Peres-Arafat meeting must take place as soon as possible, and Mr. Peres stayed away from Sunday's Cabinet meeting when it became clear Mr. Sharon was blocking the truce talks.

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