- The Washington Times - Friday, July 6, 2001

Violence racking the Middle East abated yesterday for the first time in months, but the State Department was reluctant to declare it the beginning of a seven-day period of calm needed to kick off a new U.S.-brokered peace process.
At the same time, a string of U.S. diplomatic failures, including last week's visit by Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, left analysts asking whether Washington had run out of options, at least for now.
Former Middle East negotiator Dennis Ross said in an interview that the Palestinians and Israel must be held "accountable" for their agreements to end violence.
"There is no indication the sides will exhaust themselves," he said. "But they will dig themselves a deeper hole and delay the time when they will talk about peace.
"We in the Clinton administration did not hold the two sides accountable," said Mr. Ross, currently with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
"We're locked in a stalemate, that's for sure," Mr. Ross said.
However, the State Department was cautiously optimistic yesterday.
"It's pretty quiet today, the last time I looked," said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher.
But he warned: "We've seen the trend of relative calm before only to be followed by new outbreaks of violence, so we think it's absolutely critical that the parties exert maximum efforts to sustain and improve their cooperation on security issues and to bring the violence to a halt."
An Israeli Embassy official said yesterday that the calm in the region was the first in a long time and that "if it continues we can turn this around."
Despite the calm, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher bitterly criticized Israel for targeted killings of Palestinian militants, which received a green light on Wednesday from the Israeli security Cabinet.
"This is not the behavior of a state wishing to live in peace with its neighbors," he said after a meeting with Reno Harnish, the acting U.S. ambassador in Cairo.
Mr. Powell also condemned the killings of militants by Israel in an interview with Reuters news agency.
Despite yesterday's calm, violence continued to take its toll.
In Ramallah, a 39-year-old Palestinian was killed during a gunfight between Palestinians and Israeli soldiers guarding Psagot, a Jewish settlement nearby, Palestinians said.
Witnesses said Nasser Abed was playing soccer in a schoolyard when he was hit by a bullet. Two other Palestinians were wounded, one seriously, doctors said.
The Israeli military said Palestinians fired on an army vehicle near Psagot, and soldiers returned the fire.
U.N. Middle East envoy Terje Roed-Larsen called for a mediator who could rule on disputes and help advance the U.S.-brokered truce.
Such a role might parallel the call for "accountability," Mr. Ross said.
At the heart of the stalemate is the dispute over which side is responsible for continuing violence.
The Palestinians said Wednesday that they had observed a seven-day testing period called for in the truce and claimed it was time to move to phase two: a "cooling-off period."
The Israelis said the testing period has yet to begin because of the ongoing violence.

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