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Perry, Christopher Rule Out Sending U.S. Troops to Hebron

October 15, 1996

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Clinton administration ruled out sending U.S. troops to the West Bank to enforce an accord between Israel and the Palestinians.

``They don’t need the United States between them, physically on the ground,″ State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns said Tuesday while also trying to put a damper on reports the two sides were near agreement on an Israeli troop withdrawal in the volatile West Bank city of Hebron.

Defense Secretary William Perry said earlier that using American troops to help maintain security as Israeli troops withdraw from Arab population centers had been proposed in the past ``and it is not under active consideration.″

Similarly, Burns told reporters after talking to Secretary of State Warren Christopher that U.S. troops would not be sent to the West Bank or to Gaza as peacemakers or in any other capacity. He also said he was puzzled by reports that ``somehow peace is going to break out four or five hours from now.″

``We hope it does, and we’re willing to, of course, stay as long as necessary as a participant in these talks,″ Burns said. ``But I would just caution you. Progress has been made, but substantial problems remain. They have a long way to go.″

The chief American mediator, Dennis Ross, is shuttling between Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Gaza and meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, King Hussein of Jordan and Israeli and Palestinian experts.

Israel pledged in agreements with the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1993 and 1994 to withdraw its troops from the Arab majority in Hebron, an ancient town of sacred significance to observant Jews and Muslims, and restrict security operations to the few hundred Jews who live there.

But former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres let the March deadline pass and then Netanyahu, who defeated Peres in May, sought modifications to ensure a continuation of the nearly 4,000-year Jewish presence in Hebron.

Ross’ shuttling supplanted arrangements for the two sides to negotiate in Eilat, Israel, and Taba, Egypt.

``We are working very hard to bridge the differences on Hebron redeployment and on other issues between the Israelis and the Palestinians,″ Burns said. ``Dennis has been meeting literally around the clock. And again, he’s had some nights where he hasn’t gone to bed.″

Israeli Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai, meeting with Perry at the Pentagon, gave a more upbeat assessment.

``We are planning to move forward and I hope that in a very short time we will have agreement with the Palestinian Authority,″ he said. ``When we have an agreement in a very short time we can redeploy in the Hebron area.″

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