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Arafat, Barak OK Summit to Discuss Ending Violence

Mideast: Clinton, other leaders plan to attend Monday meeting at Red Sea resort. Israeli-Palestinian clashes abate, and 15 newly released Arab extremists are put back in jail.


JERUSALEM — Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat agreed Saturday to attend a U.S.-sponsored summit in Egypt to try to bring an end to more than two weeks of deadly violence that has shattered Middle East peace prospects and threatened regional stability.

President Clinton, who had been working for more than a week to set up face-to-face talks between the two leaders, said he will attend the meeting in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el Sheik on Monday along with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Jordan's King Abdullah II and a senior European Union official.

Clinton said the Israeli and Palestinian leaders had agreed to attend the talks without preconditions, and the announcement was accompanied by a marked reduction in clashes between the two sides and no fatalities--in what was possibly a concerted effort to pave the way for the meeting.

In another apparent step toward easing tensions, the Palestinian Authority sent 15 members of the extremist Hamas and Islamic Jihad movements back to jail after releasing them during last week's turmoil in an unspoken threat to renew terrorism against Israel.

Nonetheless, Clinton quickly set out to limit expectations for the summit, which will pursue a cease-fire rather than the broader peace agreement that just a few months ago he still believed he could forge before leaving office.

"We should be under no illusions," the president said in Washington. "The good news is the parties have agreed to meet and the situation appears to be calmer. But the path ahead is difficult. After the terrible events of the past few days, the situation is still quite tense.

"Our central objectives must now be to stop the violence, to restore common safety, to agree on a fact-finding mechanism concerning how this began and how it can be prevented from occurring again and to find a way back to dialogue and negotiations."

The Palestinians had resisted a meeting with Barak ahead of an Arab League summit to be held in Cairo next Saturday, but Arafat came under intense international pressure after the violence escalated Thursday, when a Palestinian mob lynched two Israeli soldiers and Israel retaliated with missile attacks on the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The Israeli-Palestinian violence has fueled Islamic fundamentalist-driven demonstrations in Egypt and Jordan, which have peace agreements with Israel, and might have provoked attacks on U.S. and British targets in the region.

Meanwhile, a Saudi Arabian airliner flying from Jidda, Saudi Arabia, to London was hijacked to Baghdad Saturday night with a Saudi prince and about 90 Britons on board. The hijackers were later arrested and the passengers and crew freed.

Neither the identity of the hijackers nor their motive was immediately clear. Saudi Arabia is the principal U.S. ally in the region and served as the main base for U.S. troops during the 1991 Persian Gulf War against Iraq.

On Thursday, a suspected suicide bomb attack on a U.S. guided missile destroyer in the Yemeni port of Aden killed 17 sailors. The following day, a bomb exploded at the British Embassy in Yemen's capital, Sana.

In Lebanon, Hezbollah guerrillas are holding three Israeli soldiers whom they captured on Israel's northern border Oct. 7. Negotiations are underway, but Israel has threatened to retaliate against Lebanon and its de facto rulers in Syria if the soldiers are not released.

U.S., European and U.N. diplomats have been working feverishly to try to calm the Israeli-Palestinian violence and begin stabilizing the region.

As soon as they agreed to attend, both sides immediately laid out the demands they will take to the negotiating table.

Israel blamed the Palestinians for initiating the clashes and insisted that the Palestinian media cease inciting violence. The Israeli government demanded that the Palestinian Authority disarm militias organized by Arafat's Fatah movement and jail members of the radical Islamic groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad who were let out of prison in recent days.

Palestinian police rearrested one Hamas leader in Gaza and more then a dozen of the 35 members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad who had been released in the West Bank city of Nablus. The groups oppose peacemaking with Israel and are responsible for earlier bombing campaigns against the Jewish state.

Hamas militants also were part of a crowd of Islamic demonstrators in Gaza that on Friday burned three shops and a hotel that sells alcoholic beverages.

The Palestinian Authority says the widespread riots against Israeli soldiers were triggered by right-wing Likud Party leader Ariel Sharon's Sept. 28 visit to Jerusalem's most contested holy site, known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as Haram al Sharif, and that Israel has responded with excessive force.

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