- The Washington Times - Monday, September 17, 2001

JERUSALEM Israel and the Palestinians argued yesterday over conditions needed to begin truce talks leading to cooperation in the war against terrorism, while Israeli tanks entered the West Bank city of Ramallah, provoking a deadly shootout.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said truce talks could begin only after two full days with no Palestinian attacks. But Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat rejected that demand, saying the violence was caused by Israel's incursions into Palestinian territory.
"If absolute quiet lasts 48 continuous hours, our foreign minister will meet with Arafat in order to advance the cease-fire," Mr. Sharon told a special session of parliament, convened to show solidarity with the United States following last week's terror attacks.
Mr. Arafat, speaking in Gaza City, said: "We are committed to the cease-fire. We are ready for political dialogue any time, any place."
During the past year of Middle East fighting, several efforts to arrange a cease-fire have failed. A meeting between Mr. Arafat and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres that had been tentatively set for yesterday was called off after Mr. Sharon objected, saying opening truce talks now "would give Arafat legitimacy as a good guy."
President Bush called Mr. Sharon on Friday to urge him to begin the talks soon. U.S. officials believe calming Israeli-Palestinian tensions is important to their efforts to enlist Arab states in an international anti-terrorism coalition following the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Arab states have been upset with U.S. policy in the Middle East, urging the United States to take a tougher line with its Israeli allies.
However, Mr. Sharon appeared to be resisting the American calls for truce talks with Mr. Arafat, believing that he should instead be isolated and branded a terrorist leader. Most of his Cabinet agrees.
[Mr. Sharon said on public television yesterday that Israel supports U.S. efforts to build an anti-terrorism coalition but is "not prepared to pay the price" if it involves concessions to the Palestinians, Agence France-Presse reported.
["We are certainly in favor of such a coalition, we want a battle against terrorism, but we are not prepared to pay the price, and I have made that clear to those (in the United States) that I have been talking to," Mr. Sharon said.]
During the special session of parliament, Mr. Sharon said, "We should remember that the one who gave legitimacy dozens of years ago for the hijacking of planes was Arafat."
Radical Palestinian groups carried out numerous airline hijackings in the early 1970s.
Mr. Sharon has also compared Mr. Arafat to accused terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden, the leading suspect in the attacks in the United States.
The Israeli tank incursion in Ramallah, launched in the early hours yesterday, came in response to a shooting attack in Jerusalem late Saturday that killed one Israeli and injured another, the army said.
Palestinian gunmen in a car overtook an Israeli car and opened fire, killing Meir Weisshaus, 23. The car carrying the attackers was seen fleeing toward nearby Ramallah, Israeli police said.
The shooting took place on a road running through Jewish neighborhoods built in parts of Jerusalem that Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war. The radical Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestinian claimed responsibility for the killing in a statement distributed in Damascus, Syria.
Shortly afterward, the Israeli tanks began exchanging fire with Palestinian security forces and militiamen in Ramallah. In fighting that lasted several hours, tanks aided by helicopters shelled Palestinian police checkpoints, a building belonging to Palestinian intelligence and three houses, Palestinian security officials said.
One Israeli soldier was killed and one wounded, the Israeli military said, which also said Israeli forces arrested a few Palestinians. One Palestinian was killed and 25 injured, Palestinians said.

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