SHARM EL SHEIK, Egypt Israeli and Palestinian leaders attempted to step back from the brink of war yesterday after a 24-hour summit with President Clinton, agreeing in an unsigned pact to “concrete steps to end the current confrontation.”
But both sides returned home to continued fighting, deeply suspicious of whether the accord would hold.
Two Palestinians died and an Israeli policeman was critically wounded in separate gunbattles in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak said on his return that Israel would implement the understandings and that security forces “will be meticulous in their efforts to end the violence and prevent further loss of life.”
Mr. Barak was responding to a provision in the agreement requiring each of the leaders to make a public statement denouncing the violence.
Mr. Arafat said on return to the Gaza Strip he wanted “an accurate and honest implementation of what has been agreed on,” but he faced a tough task persuading angry Palestinians to lay down their stones and guns.
In the talks, Israel said it would pull back its troops and tanks from Palestinian flash points, lift the siege on Palestinian cities and reopen Gaza airport.
The Palestinians agreed to call “unequivocally” for an end to violence for the first time since clashes began Sept. 28. They also agreed to a U.S.-led fact-finding committee that would investigate the recent violence and share its results with the United Nations.
Both sides agreed to try to restart the peace process in two weeks.
“I believe we made real progress today,” said a weary looking Mr. Clinton after 28 hours on the ground, all but four spent negotiating.
He made his remarks flanked by leaders of Egypt, Israel, the Palestinians, Jordan, the United Nations and the European Union.
“Repairing the damage will take time and great effort by all of us. We have made important commitments here today against the backdrop of tragedy and crisis,” Mr. Clinton said. “We should have no illusions about the difficulties ahead.”
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who hosted the summit and helped nudge the Palestinians toward making some compromises in the cause of peace, warned that hard-liners on both sides would find fault with the agreement.
“The outcome we have reached in this summit may not meet the expectations of all peoples,” he said. “However, they constitute at the same time a basis on which we can build, if we have the good intentions, and if the real desire to achieve peace is there.”
Back in the West Bank, Jibril Rajoub, the Palestinian security chief there, said the onus for restoring calm is on the Israelis.
“It’s they who created this crisis, they are the ones who used acts of killing and terrorism against our people,” Mr. Rajoub said. “What is needed now is for them to take all the necessary measures to stop this violence.”
Marwan Barghouti, the leader of Mr. Arafat’s Fatah movement in the West Bank, said the Palestinians shouldn’t rely only on negotiations, but should continue to confront Israeli security forces.
The leader of the radical Islamic group Hamas said it was not bound by the deal. “We will continue fighting,” declared Hamas leader Sheik Ahmed Yassin, expressing a militancy that appeared to resonate with many Palestinians.
Although no written pact was signed, a senior U.S. official said that specific agreements were reached by each side during meetings with Mr. Clinton.
An Israeli official traveling with Mr. Barak said the two sides had also reached a secret security deal, a claim denied by the Palestinians. The CIA, which has been working with both sides to monitor security arrangements for more than two years, would help implement the latest agreement, the official said on the condition of anonymity. He did not give details.
Shortly after the truce was announced, Palestinian gunmen opened fire on the Jewish neighborhood of Gilo in southern Jerusalem. A policeman was shot in the chest and critically wounded, and several homes were raked with gunshots.
Two Israeli tanks, deployed in the neighborhood after an earlier Palestinian attack, returned fire from mounted machine guns, and Israeli security forces quickly evacuated about 200 Jewish residents from their hilltop homes.
Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert said the shooting “was the first test of the cease-fire and it was definitely a failure.”
Tensions also ran high in the Gaza Strip, where hundreds of Palestinians threw rocks and firebombs at an Israeli military checkpoint in morning clashes that left 10 injured. In fighting in the afternoon, a Palestinian policeman was killed by a bullet to the chest, hospital doctors said.
Before the truce was declared, Palestinian farmer Farid Nasrara, 28, was killed by Jewish settlers near the West Bank town of Nablus when he was hit by rifle fire, according to witnesses and doctors.
A third Palestinian died yesterday from a gunshot wound to the head two weeks ago, putting the overall death toll at 102, most of them Palestinians.
The marathon negotiations were dogged by a logjam of hostility that kept the two sides far apart until early yesterday morning. Back to back meetings in which Mr. Clinton met first with Mr. Barak and then Mr. Arafat began shortly after midnight and lasted until 4 a.m.
“Those meetings turned a corner,” said a senior U.S. official.
Efforts to end the violence, which began Sept. 28 after a visit by hawkish Israeli leader Ariel Sharon to Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, known as Haram as-Sharif by Muslims, had been stalled by each side’s refusal to go first in defusing tensions.
The agreements Mr. Clinton extracted from the two sides appeared to resolve that obstacle.
“Firstly, both sides have agreed to issue public statements unequivocally calling for an end of the violence,” said Mr. Clinton. “They also agreed to take immediate, concrete measures to end the current confrontation, eliminate points of friction, ensure an end to violence and incitement, maintain calm and prevent the recurrence of recent events.”
The agreement calls for Israelis and Palestinians to return to the situation before the violence began by moving troops and restoring law and order.
Zve Stauber, a senior Israeli official, said that the troop withdrawals and Palestinian moves to end violence will take place in a prearranged sequence that was not made public yesterday.
“We agreed to lift the closures [of the West Bank and Gaza] but it depends on certain steps that [the Palestinians] are doing,” he said.
The moves will be made “on good faith” but also involve U.S. cooperation on security issues with the two sides, said another senior official, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright said that Mr. Arafat has the authority to compel an end to the uprising.
“Specific things he needs to do is to return to the rule of law and end incitement to violence,” she said. “[Mr. Arafat] may not be in total control but he does have authority and must regain control.”
The Palestinians made a major compromise on calls for a fact-finding commission to investigate the violence. Mr. Arafat had sought an international body such as the United Nations to do a formal investigation.
The agreement yesterday endorses the Israeli demand for a U.S.-led team to conduct the inquiry, with the results shared with the United Nations before they are published.