- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 12, 2001

JERUSALEM A U.S. mediator presided over a new round of Israeli-Palestinian truce talks yesterday after two earlier stormy meetings that ended without result.

In new violence, Israeli helicopters fired missiles at a Palestinian police post in the Gaza Strip and soldiers killed two Palestinian laborers at a West Bank checkpoint.

European envoys joined the diplomatic fray. European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana had breakfast with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in Jerusalem and then met Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in the West Bank town of Ramallah.

His visit came as the EU toughened its stance on Palestinian militants, branding the radical groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad "terrorist networks" a day earlier and demanding that Mr. Arafat dismantle them.

A series of Hamas suicide bombings last week killed 26 persons.

In Jerusalem, U.S. peace envoy Anthony Zinni played host to the third meeting of Israeli and Palestinian security officials since the bombings. Israelis and Palestinians gave differing versions of the results.

A Palestinian official said there was no real progress at the meeting and complained that Israel's continuing strikes were sabotaging international peace efforts.

He said Mr. Solana earlier had promised to do all he could to stop those strikes.

In a statement, the Israeli Prime Minister's Office said Israel would continue with what it calls the targeted killings of suspected militants, and that it would respond to all attacks.

Israeli officials described the meeting as positive, and said Gen. Zinni would remain in the region at the request of both sides. Over the weekend, it was reported that Gen. Zinni threatened to end his mission unless progress was made toward ending the violence.

Yesterday, Israeli helicopters fired four rockets at a post of the elite Palestinian security unit Force 17. Israel also fired two surface-to-surface missiles at the building, causing considerable damage, Palestinian security officials said.

The post was evacuated before the attack, and a farmer was slightly injured by debris. One missile hit the main electricity line connecting the neighborhood to the Israeli grid, plunging it into darkness.

The strike was retaliation for Palestinian mortar fire on a Jewish settlement in Gaza a day earlier. An Israeli girl was slightly injured in that attack.

Arafat adviser Nabil Abu Rdeneh said Israel's strike along with its botched attempt in Hebron on Monday to kill Islamic Jihad activist Mohammed Ayoub Sidr was a dangerous escalation aimed at sabotaging Gen. Zinni's peace mission.

The attempted killing, carried out with missiles fired from helicopters, wounded Mr. Ayoub and killed two Palestinian children, ages 3 and 13. Seven other bystanders were injured.

About 3,000 Palestinians joined the youngsters' funeral yesterday. For the first time in months, no gunmen participated in the procession, in apparent compliance with Mr. Arafat's orders that only Palestinian security forces are to appear in public carrying weapons.

There was more violence yesterday in the West Bank, where Israeli troops opened fire on a Palestinian car, killing the driver and a passenger, the Israeli military said.

As talks ground on, Israeli and international pressure on Mr. Arafat continued, with officials urging him to do more to stop terrorism. The Palestinian leader has said he arrested more than 180 militants, but Israel dismisses the sweep as a mostly a sham.

The EU statement on Hamas and Islamic Jihad marked a hardening of its stance.

Israel has repeatedly accused the Europeans of being pro-Palestinian. But its unusually tough statement moved its position closer to that of the United States, which has stepped up pressure on Mr. Arafat to act against the militants.

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