SHARM EL SHEIK, Egypt President Clinton held a series of meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders lasting into early this morning, but after more than 14 hours of talks, no cease-fire had been announced to end 19 days of deadly violence.
Near 4 a.m. (10 p.m. EDT), they decided to call it a night and resume later this morning. Egyptian spokesman Nabil Osman earlier told reporters that all summit participants would gather at 10 a.m. (4 a.m. EDT) for a closing session at this Red Sea resort.
Since yesterday, Mr. Clinton has been working in an emergency summit with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to end a wave of Israeli-Palestinian violence in which at least 100 people have been killed, most of them Palestinians.
“I am not going to … try to characterize where we are. But we obviously think it’s worth continuing to work,” White House spokesman Jake Siewert told reporters early this morning. “The president’s put in a pretty long day at this point, but he is still at it.”
The spokesman described most of Mr. Clinton’s meetings as “straightforward and businesslike” and said an acrimonious session between the Israeli and Palestinian foreign ministers earlier in the day was “the exception, not the rule.”
The leaders met over a late dinner while their foreign ministers talked separately.
Mr. Clinton had planned to return to the United States yesterday. He is scheduled to attend a memorial service tomorrow in Norfolk for the 17 sailors killed in last week’s terrorist bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen.
Despite entreaties by Mr. Clinton and the leaders of Jordan, Egypt, the United Nations and the European Union, the Palestinians refused to end their violent uprising and Israel refused to pull back its troops and tanks, senior Israeli and Egyptian officials said at the talks.
“There are some points of agreement but also disagreements,” Mr. Osman, Egypt’s spokesman, said earlier.
He spoke after Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright met with the foreign ministers of the summit powers but failed to resolve key issues blocking a cease-fire declaration.
The urgency of the talks was underlined by fresh clashes in the West Bank and Gaza, where Israeli soldiers fatally shot a 14-year-old Palestinian boy and a Palestinian policeman while at least 64 Palestinians and two Israeli soldiers were wounded yesterday.
Among the key issues holding up an agreement:
The Palestinians want Israeli tanks and troops pulled back to their positions before the Sept. 28 uprising began and an end to the blockade of Palestinian cities and territories by Israel.
The Israelis want the Palestinians to first end their uprising, collect weapons from the Tanzin militia and round up 60 freed terrorists.
Both sides want an inquiry into the violence, but the Palestinians want it held by the United Nations and friendly states while Israel wants the inquiry group to be named by the United States.
“The future of the peoples involved here, the future of the peace process and the stability of the region are at stake,” Mr. Clinton said at the meeting’s brief plenary session, when all seven leaders sat at one table.
The discussion included Mr. Clinton, Mr. Arafat, Mr. Barak, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Jordan’s King Abdullah, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and EU foreign affairs chief Javier Solana.
“We have to have a balanced, mutual disengagement and we have to restore the security cooperation … and begin to rebuild the bonds of trust,” said Mr. Clinton. “We have got to move beyond blame.”
Mr. Mubarak took the side of the Palestinians, saying “the [Israeli] aggressions to which the Palestinian people were subjected during the last two weeks persuaded me to convene this meeting.”
Mr. Barak and Mr. Arafat did not shake hands or greet each other, said Alon Pinkas, senior adviser to Israel’s foreign minister.
Meanwhile, the U.N. General Assembly in New York was preparing a resolution condemning Israeli violence in the Middle East, under a rule that allows it to take up matters of international peace and security when the Security Council is unwilling or unable to do so. The so-called emergency special session is a continuation of one convened last year, and could begin as early as tomorrow.
The unrest began after the failure in July of Camp David talks on a final Palestinian-Israeli peace treaty led to an increase in tension and frustration among Palestinians hoping for their own state and an end to Israeli control over their movements.
Some analysts said Camp David failed because Mr. Clinton, seeking to achieve a Middle East peace agreement before leaving office, rushed the meeting and pressured Mr. Arafat to make compromises on claims to Jerusalem that his people had not been prepared to accept.
Mr. Clinton’s spokesman, P.J. Crowley, yesterday rejected that characterization.
“We reject the idea that Camp David led to this. If we had not held Camp David, we would have seen violence earlier,” he said.
Other analysts say Mr. Arafat was pressed to insist on full control of Jerusalem by Muslim hard-liners especially Iran who said Israel’s May withdrawal from Lebanon while under attack from Hezbollah guerrillas indicated Israel was becoming weak and could be defeated.
Palestinians blame the violence on Israeli hawk Ariel Sharon, who made a high-profile visit Sept. 28 to Jerusalem’s contested Temple Mount, known to Muslims as Haram al Sharif, after which Arab stone-throwing mobs went into action.
The Palestinians, as well as Muslims in Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Indonesia, Iran and Iraq, have held anti-Israel and anti-American demonstrations that have set back decades of friendship with some countries and frightened the region’s leaders.
“Everyone in Cairo is talking about it in the street and the restaurants; they feel pity for the Palestinians and angry at Israel and America,” said one Egyptian woman who works for the U.S. government. “We have not seen this for many, many years.”
Before leaving for the summit, both Mr. Barak and Mr. Arafat issued harsh statements to their people.
“If Arafat wants to lubricate with the blood of Palestinians to draw international attention it is … a crime,” said Mr. Barak. “There is a difference in the modern world between a leader and the head of a gang.”
Mr. Arafat was equally negative about his adversary.
“The people are attacked by Israelis throwing stones is their only defense. You are the stronger people,” he said.
Betsy Pisik contributed to this report in New York.