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U.S. Eases Strain Over PLO HQ

May 6, 1999

JERUSALEM (AP) _ The United States tried Thursday to defuse tensions between Israel and the Palestinians over activities at the PLO headquarters in Jerusalem as both sides strengthened their rhetoric.

The dispute centers over Orient House, where Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered three offices closed last month. Netanyahu says the offices have ties to Arafat’s Palestinian Authority, which is barred by interim peace agreements from operating in east Jerusalem.

U.S. Ambassador Edward Walker met with Avigdor Kahalani, the Israeli minister for public security, and urged Israel and the Palestinians to show restraint, said a U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

At Walker’s request, the minister agreed to postpone a decision on the closures until Friday.

However, Netanyahu insisted Thursday that the offices would be closed ``by agreement or without agreement.″

The United States understands that ``we have good reasons ... in our sovereign capital, to do what we want,″ he said.

The Palestinians deny the offices are connected to the self-rule authority, and have warned that riots would erupt if Israeli police tried to enter Orient House, their headquarters in east Jerusalem since the 1980s.

``We are warning the Israeli government against continuing with this mad policy, which would cause an explosion in all the Palestinian territories,″ said Marwan Barghouti, the leader of Yasser Arafat’s Fatah movement in the West Bank.

The dispute touches on the volatile issue of sovereignty over Jerusalem’s traditionally Arab eastern sector, which Israel occupied and annexed in 1967. The Palestinians want the sector as the capital of a future state, while Israel claims it as part of its capital.

Violence could affect the outcome of Israel’s May 17 elections, in which moderate opposition leader Ehud Barak is challenging the hard-line Netanyahu.

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