- The Washington Times - Friday, August 9, 2002

Israeli-Palestinian talks on easing Israel's military grip on the Gaza Strip and West Bank broke up without agreement yesterday, and new violence erupted soon afterward.

The collapse of talks in Jerusalem came as the Bush administration in Washington held its highest-level talks with the Palestinians since President Bush called for the replacement of a leadership linked to terrorism.

Israel sent tanks into the Gaza town of Beit Lahiya for the second successive day to hunt for militants.

A 17-year-old Palestinian died after being shot while riding his bicycle as troops fired to disperse stone-throwers resisting their advance.

Israeli forces also demolished the West Bank homes of four Palestinians suspected of involvement in suicide bombings, continuing a policy that has been condemned by human-rights groups.

In Washington, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice met with the Palestinian ministers of local government, economy and interior Saeb Erekat, Maher Masri and Abdel Raza Yehiyeh but announced no breakthroughs.

The talks are to continue through tomorrow and include meetings with CIA Director George Tenet, Palestinian officials said.

"We reviewed the work that we are doing together on the three-track approach of security, of economic development and humanitarian assistance, and also our commitment once again to a political track," said Mr. Powell after the meeting at the State Department.

"The discussions will be continuing over the next couple of days, and then we're anxious to get some specific actions started, especially with respect to security."

Before the talks began Mr. Erekat stated his allegiance to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, rejecting U.S. calls that Mr. Arafat be replaced.

In the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, Israel had offered to pull troops out of Gaza and possibly Bethlehem if the Palestinians would guarantee to prevent attacks on Israel from those areas.

While the Palestinian Cabinet initially agreed to the deal, the dominant Fatah faction did not, and yesterday the deal appeared to collapse.

Palestinian international cooperation minister Nabil Shaath told BBC television: "They will not allow the kind of freedom of movement for our policemen that we requested."

There was also some fear on the Palestinian side that Israel was seeking to create a separate status for Gaza from the West Bank.

Mr. Erekat said outside the State Department that the reforms the Palestinians are pledged to undertake are not done solely because of U.S. demands.

"Palestinian reform is Palestinian reform. It's done for Palestinian interests by Palestinian will, and it's not being dictated by anybody," Mr. Erekat said.

He also reiterated reports that 50 percent of Palestinian children under the age of 5 are facing malnutrition caused by the chaotic Middle East situation.

This article is based on wire service reports.


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