MidEast Leaders To Attend Summit
JERUSALEM (AP) _ Pressed hard by President Clinton, Israel and the Palestinians agreed Saturday to attend a summit aimed at declaring a cease-fire _ but a renewal of peace talks remains unlikely after more than two weeks of the worst violence in the West Bank and Gaza in decades.
Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s office was succinct: ``The summit will not address substantive issues,″ other than a cease-fire, it said in a statement accepting the invitation from Clinton and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to meet in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el Sheik on Monday.
Clinton also set sights low. ``The good news is the parties have agreed to meet and the situation appears to be calmer,″ he said in a brief statement at the White House. ``But the path ahead is difficult. After the terrible events of the past few days, the situation is still quite tense.″
The Palestinians, likewise, emphasized their goals in terms of an end to the violence. ``We hope that in this summit, Israel will stop its aggression against our lands and totally lift the closure on Palestinian territories,″ said Nabil Shaath, a top aide to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
That was a long way from summer’s heady optimism, when Clinton said a permanent peace was closer than it had ever been, after negotiators broke new ground at the Camp David talks.
The violence, which in 17 days has killed nearly 100 _ most of them Palestinians _ escalated dangerously on Thursday when a Palestinian mob beat two captured Israeli reserves soldiers to death, and Israel retaliated by rocketing Palestinian command targets.
Since then, the violence has abated _ but the rhetoric has not.
In Gaza’s refugee camps of Rafah and Jabaliya, thousands of members of Arafat’s Fatah faction urged him not to attend the summit. ``The Sharm el Sheik summit is an Israeli and American trick,″ one banner said.
Fatah signed dozens of residents to a new militia in the volatile West Bank city of Hebron. The men _ some with gray beards, in their 40s and 50s _ ran through a series of drills.
``We believe that there is no opportunity to have any kind of understanding between us and the occupation,″ said one of the volunteers, Marwan Zaloum.
Earlier in Hebron, about 7,000 mourners buried a man shot to death during clashes with Israeli troops the day before. The body was covered by a Palestinian flag, and borne by uniformed Palestinian police. Gunmen fired into the air. ``Revenge, revenge,″ they chanted, and ``Down with the olive branch, long live the rifle.″
Israeli TV newscasts repeatedly ran the film of the exultant mob stomping and beating the two reserves soldiers, and of a Gaza preacher delivering a Friday sermon that urged the faithful to ``kill the Jews.″
The sides were reluctant even to discuss a limited cease-fire objective, and Clinton and Mubarak clocked hours on the phones with Israeli and Palestinian officials to get them to the table.
The summit will be attended by Clinton, Barak, Arafat, Mubarak, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, King Abdullah II of Jordan and a senior European Union representative.
Annan succeeded in badgering each side into dropping preconditions it was clear that the other could not accept. ``There were no preconditions. There were suggestions,″ Annan said.
The Palestinians dropped their demand for the prior establishment of an international commission of inquiry into the violence, settling instead for a promise that it would be discussed at the summit.
Barak adamantly rejects formation of an international panel, saying Israel trusts only the United States to lead an inquiry.
Nachman Shai, a government spokesman, expressed Israelis’ long-standing suspicions of an international community viewed as pro-Arab. ``We are not interested, with all due respect, to see anyone from outside come in and judge what we are doing here in the region,″ he said. Shaath said the Palestinians also wanted the Israelis to pull back from the edge of Palestinian-controlled areas, and to loosen a closure that has hindered the delivery of food and medicine. The Israelis have said they are prepared to meet those demands once the violence abates.
For their part, the Israelis downgraded their calls on Arafat to re-arrest dozens of Islamic militants freed in recent days and to disarm the militias from ``conditions″ to ``necessary steps″ that had no deadline.
In the West Bank town of Nablus, Palestinian security on Saturday returned 14 of 35 freed militants to prison. The 14 surrendered to police after being warned they would be branded fugitives and brought in by force if they didn’t return to prison, said an activist of the Islamic militant group Hamas in Nablus.
Among those taken back to jail was Yusef Souragji, suspected of having recruited assailants in bombing attacks on Israeli targets several years ago.
The bitter accusations traded in the past two weeks were a marked change from July, when Camp David negotiators marveled at how far they had come. At that summit, the Palestinians were the first Arab negotiators willing to concede land Israel had captured in the 1967 Mideast war, and Barak violated two major taboos: discussing a return of Palestinian refugees, and sharing Jerusalem.
A Jerusalem shrine broke up those talks. The Noble Sanctuary includes the Al Aqsa mosque, the third holiest shrine in Islam; it is also built over the ruins of the ancient Jewish temple, Judaism’s holiest site. A Sept. 28 visit to the site by the leader of the hard-line Israeli opposition, Ariel Sharon, sparked the clashes.
The image of the shrine still haunts the violence, and the efforts to end it. On Saturday in Hebron, funeral-goers had a pointed reminder for their leader: ``Arafat, we are ready to fight and to redeem Al Aqsa with our blood,″ they chanted.