- The Washington Times - Friday, July 20, 2001

U.S. and Israeli officials joined yesterday in rejecting a statement from foreign ministers at the Group of Eight summit in Italy calling for Israel and the Palestinians to agree to the deployment of international peace monitors.

However, pressure on Israel was likely to mount after a Jewish extremist group claimed responsibility for the roadside killing of three Palestinians, including an infant, in the West Bank.

"We believe that third-party monitoring, accepted by both parties, would serve their interests in implementing" the peace plan put forward by former Sen. George Mitchell, the foreign ministers said in a statement issued at the end of two days of talks in Rome.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell represented the United States at the meeting.

The Palestinian Authority has for months asked that monitors be placed in the West Bank, arguing they are needed to protect Palestinian civilians from Israeli troops.

But Israel has steadfastly rejected the notion, saying it would simply provide a shield for Palestinian extremists.

They note that peacekeepers in southern Lebanon were unable to prevent attacks on Israeli troops there.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon repeated that stand yesterday, calling the proposal "a step doesn't want."

In Washington, former Prime Minister Ehud Barak also rejected the idea during an appearance at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, where he denounced his one-time peace partner Yasser Arafat as a "thug" who is uninterested in peace.

"Israel is an open, transparent society, and we will be the target of all blame" for any incidents, Mr. Barak said.

"But Arafat gets the terrorist organizations and tells them in closed rooms: 'Don't listen to what I say in public'" about halting violence.

Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Michael Melchior, also in Washington, came away from a meeting at the State Department assured that the United States remains opposed to an observer force, United Press International reported.

"He was very clear," Mr. Melchior said of his meeting with Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage. "The American position is the same as the Mitchell report — no observers without agreement from both parties."

However, European support for observers may grow after Israeli settlers yesterday opened fire on a Palestinian car west of Hebron, killing three persons and wounding four, according to witnesses.

Akram Etnizi, a relative of the victims, told the Associated Press he was in a nearby car and watched as "one settler stepped up to the car and started shooting, and then drove away."

Israel television said an Israeli car ran an army roadblock nearby and escaped into Israel after the shooting. Responsibility was later claimed by a group calling itself the Road Safety Group, which is associated with the outlawed extremist group Kach.

The Israeli settlers' leadership council issued a statement saying that if an Israeli was responsible, the council "strongly denounces the despicable act."

Mr. Barak, who offered at Camp David to give the Palestinian Authority more than 90 percent of the West Bank and Gaza in a peace deal, made clear in Washington yesterday he is turning toward "unilateral separation" from the Palestinians.

The separation plans Mr. Barak and others have floated in the last year include a border fence to divide Palestinians from Israel, which would annex the 10 percent to 20 percent of the West Bank that holds about 80 percent of the Israeli settlers.

Israel would also keep a defensive strip along the Jordan River valley and block all Palestinian workers from entering Israel.

"Arafat is guiding and encouraging terror, which comes from his own people, as well as closing his eyes to the terrorism of Islamic Jihad and Hamas," Mr. Barak said.

Although Mr. Barak has met many times with Mr. Arafat, including hosting him in the Barak home just three days before the outbreak of the latest intifada in September 2000, the retired general and political leader now feels betrayed.

Mr. Arafat "realized he doesn't have the character of a Palestinian (Anwar) Sadat, a King Hussein or a Charles de Gaulle," Mr. Barak said in reference to past leaders of Egypt, Jordan and France, respectively.

Mr. Barak, who also met yesterday with Mr. Armitage, called on all countries to "coordinate intelligence and diplomatic efforts" against the Palestinians so long as they continue to use terrorism.

"Don't let them land at any port or airport and immediately isolate anyone ready to host them," he said. "We will stand firm as long as needed."

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