- The Washington Times - Friday, November 10, 2000

President Clinton and Yasser Arafat failed in a last-ditch summit yesterday to show any progress toward ending weeks of escalating Israeli-Palestinian violence.

Just hours before Mr. Arafat arrived at the White House, Israeli helicopter gunships attacked a truck filled with Palestinian guerrillas on the West Bank, killing a Palestinian commander believed responsible for shooting Israeli soldiers.

After saying goodbye to Mr. Clinton at the White House entrance, the Palestinian leader told reporters waiting in the driveway:

"I thanked President Clinton for his commitment to the peace process and the efforts he is extending at all levels to the peace process at this critical time. We are facing a very dangerous situation."

The Palestinian leader said he was still committed to peace despite the violence that has claimed at least 180 lives in the past six weeks.

Mr. Arafat said he had discussed all major issues with Mr. Clinton in a meeting that lasted nearly two hours, including a Palestinian effort to bring international peacekeeping troops between the two warring forces.

The United States continues to oppose such a plan so long as Israel is against it, White House officials said.

Mr. Arafat used the term "very dangerous" twice, once to describe the daily clashes between Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and once responding to a question about yesterday's helicopter attack.

His Fatah faction vowed retaliation for the attack, which killed Hussein Abayat, a Palestinian militia commander described by Israel as the "terrorist mastermind" responsible for the deaths of three of its soldiers.

The attack also killed two female passers-by and critically wounded another Palestinian commander, Khaled Salahat.

The attack appeared to be a delayed Israeli response to the killing of three Israeli soldiers last week.

Maj. Gen. Yitzhak Eitan, chief of Israel's central command, said that "the action was based on intelligence information" that targeted the Fatah chief.

Gen. Eitan called Mr. Abayat, who led Fatah gunmen in the Bethlehem area, "one of the masterminds of the terrorist network" attacking Israeli troops in the West Bank.

Marwan Barghouthi, Fatah leader in the West Bank, described the attack as an assassination.

"It is the beginning of a new phase of Israeli terrorism and violence … the rulers of Israel are solely responsible for the coming retaliation. It is a very grave escalation," he said.

White House spokesman P.J. Crowley refused to condemn the helicopter attack, saying, "we continue to gather facts" about the attack.

Today, Mr. Arafat meets with the United Nations Security Council in New York to try to win support for his proposal to deploy international peacekeepers.

Mr. Crowley said the United States still believes neither Israel nor the Palestinians have fulfilled their promises to end the violence, made to Mr. Clinton verbally at the Egyptian resort of Sharm el Sheik last month.

Israel has not pulled back its armor and troops from flash points inside occupied Arab territory and the Palestinian leader has not ordered his security forces to end the attacks by snipers and stone throwers.

Mr. Clinton did not speak to reporters after the meeting with Mr. Arafat, who said goodbye at the White House door and strode out under a drizzle to speak to reporters.

"I had an important and constructive meeting with President Clinton," Mr. Arafat said.

Asked if he would call for an end to violence by Palestinian youths, Mr. Arafat became agitated.

"I'm not the one who initiated the violence," he said. "I am not the one who is attacking Israelis. My tanks are not sieging Israeli towns. I did not order my tanks, my air force, my artillery, my heavy weapons, my navy."

Despite the lack of any evident progress in reviving peace efforts, Mr. Arafat said he still hoped for peace.

"I restate my full commitment to make peace with President Clinton," he said.

He said any possible summit meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak depended on the Israelis.

Mr. Clinton's national security adviser, Samuel Berger, said yesterday, before the Arafat-Clinton meeting, that the helicopter attack was part of an ongoing resurgence of violence that had to be addressed.

"Violence breeds violence, and we must find a way to break this cycle," he said. "It's important for people on both sides to do all they can to try to achieve that."

Mr. Barak, who meets with Mr. Clinton Sunday at the White House, said Wednesday on Israeli television that he would seek no resumption of peace talks.

"I go to Washington to ensure that the end of violence that was agreed on at Sharm el Sheik is carried out, if that is possible. That is all," he said.

At another flash point on the West Bank, Israeli soldiers blocked dozens of right-wing and religious Jews seeking to defy an army order closing Rachel's Tomb, a Jewish shrine at the entrance to Bethlehem.

The army declared the shrine a "closed military zone" because of fears of attacks by Palestinians.

And the Gulf state of Qatar, under pressure to cut its low-level ties with Israel ahead of an Islamic summit, said yesterday it was closing an Israeli trade office in its capital, Doha, because of the violence.

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