TEL AVIV Tensions between Palestinians and Israelis eased yesterday even as President Clinton and the United Nations failed in an attempt to set up an emergency summit to halt clashes between Arabs and Jews.
Despite the apparent lull in violence, new clashes spread to Israel’s major cities, including Tel Aviv, where a Jewish mob burned a popular restaurant because it employed Arab cooks.
By late evening, Palestinian officials reported four wounded in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, including a 12-year-old boy who was clinically dead after being shot in the head by Israeli soldiers.
With scores killed in the same areas in less than two weeks, Israel’s army issued a statement noting a “significant decrease” in violence.
“I hope very much that we are now past the peak,” Israeli army chief Shaul Mofaz told reporters in the first hint of optimism since Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak backed away from a weekend ultimatum to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat over the protests.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan sought to put a quick end to clashes that have claimed some 90 lives and threatened to engulf the entire Middle East.
He met Mr. Barak and Mr. Arafat separately to try to convene a summit possibly with President Clinton where the two sides could hammer out a cease-fire agreement.
From the United States, Mr. Clinton also called Mr. Barak and Mr. Arafat.
Mr. Barak, speaking at a joint news conference with Mr. Annan, said he knew of no plans for a peace summit, calling it “an egg that hasn’t been hatched yet.”
Four provisional cease-fires have collapsed so far in the cycle of violence.
Most of those killed have been Palestinians and Arab-Israelis, many of whom have relatives in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Mr. Arafat, who balked at endorsing a truce at a meeting with Mr. Barak and Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright last week in Paris, wants an international committee to investigate Israel’s handling of the riots, a demand that Mr. Barak has rejected.
According to one idea floated in yesterday’s meetings, Mr. Barak would agree to a probe led by the United States, with the United Nations and Norway included in the proceedings.
But by the end of the day, Mr. Annan was unable to announce that a summit had been set.
The fighting, touched off nearly two weeks ago by the visit of Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon to a Jerusalem shrine holy to Muslims and Jews, has sparked unrest in neighboring Arab countries, prompting U.S. concern that violence could engulf the entire Middle East.
Israel this week urged thousands of Jewish tourists in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula, a popular tourist destination, to return home, fearing their lives could be at risk.
“There is a danger that if this goes unchecked, we could see a much wider conflict with many more nations involved, and that would be devastating for all concerned,” Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen said in Birmingham, England, yesterday, where he met with NATO defense ministers.
In the absence of a breakthrough, Israelis and Palestinians continued to flex their muscles, showing few signs that, at least on the surface, calm could be restored.
In the West Bank town of Nablus, hundreds of Palestinians, their faces wrapped in scarves or ski masks, marched with automatic rifles in a show of force that must have been as ominous to anyone, Israeli or Palestinian, with an interest in a peace deal.
Mr. Barak insists that Mr. Arafat has the ability to call off riots in the West Bank and Gaza with a simple order, but some Palestinian analysts say he has only limited control over armed groups in his Fatah faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).
Israel says one of those groups, the Tanzim, is driving the hostilities.
In another part of the town, Palestinians were refurbishing Joseph’s Tomb, a Jewish shrine they had ransacked over the weekend in one of the most disturbing scenes for Israelis.
Israeli television showed Palestinians cementing and repainting the complex, and the report said the green color used to repaint the structure’s dome suggested Palestinians were recasting the sacred Jewish site as a mosque.
The tomb’s desecration and the capture of three Israeli soldiers by Islamic Hezbollah guerrillas on the border with Lebanon, also over the weekend, have touched off a wave of Jewish attacks against Arabs both inside Israel and in the West Bank.
Mr. Annan next heads to Lebanon, where he will try to secure the release of the three Israeli soldiers.
A spokesman for Hezbollah said in Beirut that they are seeking the release of 19 Lebanese prisoners held in Israeli jails.