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CRISIS IN THE MIDEAST

Stakes Are High as Mideast Summit Goes Past Deadline

Diplomacy: Clinton tells fellow participants at Sharm el Sheik meeting, 'We can't afford to fail.' Final session is set for today as violence continues in West Bank and Gaza Strip.

October 17, 2000|NORMAN KEMPSTER and REBECCA TROUNSON | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

SHARM EL SHEIK, Egypt — Admonished by President Clinton that "we can't afford to fail," Israeli and Palestinian leaders talked far past midnight today, then recessed their Middle East crisis summit until a final meeting later in the morning.

White House officials said the leaders made enough progress to continue past the original deadline of midnight Monday. They tried to complete their work in a single day, but fatigue got the better of them a little after 2 a.m.

The summit was called to give Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat an opportunity to end more than two weeks of violence without either appearing to give in to the other. Talks were mediated by Clinton, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Jordanian King Abdullah II, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Javier Solana, the European Union's chief foreign policy official.

Even as the summit began, violence erupted again across the West Bank and Gaza Strip, escalating throughout the afternoon and underlining the difficulties facing efforts to restore calm.

Ever since the breakdown of the 17-day Camp David peace conference in July and Clinton's public endorsement of Barak's willingness to compromise, relations between the White House and Arafat have been chilly. But at Sharm el Sheik, Mubarak, the official host, made sure that the Palestinians had sympathetic ears at the table, including the Arab monarch of neighboring Jordan. The Israeli government has charged that the U.N. and the European Union both lean toward the Palestinians.

Mubarak adopted an unabashedly pro-Palestinian stance in his speech to a brief public opening of the summit, which was taking place behind closed doors. He criticized Israel for "the aggression to which the Palestinian people were subjected during the last two weeks."

He said the purpose of the summit was "to move toward a just and comprehensive peace that guarantees the Palestinians self-determination and their state."

At the outset of the summit, Clinton appealed to both sides to contain the anger each feels toward the other.

"Though once again we have a situation piled high with grievance, we have got to move beyond blame," the president said.

He reminded Barak and Arafat of the progress toward peace that had been made before the latest cycle of violence.

"We shouldn't give it all up for what has happened in the last few weeks," he said.

The meeting was held under extraordinarily tight security at a lavish golf club in this Red Sea resort. Unlike most possible venues in Sharm el Sheik, it has no view of the water.

Clinton, an avid golfer, spent about 15 minutes walking around the links. Although the pro shop offered to supply clubs, the president did not hit a shot.

Clinton had planned to head home about midnight but decided to stay. As the early morning hours wore on, some of the leaders napped between meetings, but none gave up.

Foreign ministers of the participants held their own meetings, designed to hammer out a joint statement that could be issued at the end of the summit.

P. J. Crowley, the White House spokesman for foreign affairs, provided reporters with a catalog of meetings but little information. Israeli and Palestinian sources kept up a series of leaks, mostly accusing the other party of stalling the talks.

Crowley said Barak and Arafat met together only during the opening session of all seven leaders and during a lunch and a dinner. The rest of the time was spent with Clinton meeting separately with Barak or Arafat, sometimes accompanied by Mubarak.

New Fighting Follows Fairly Calm Weekend

Renewed clashes between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian police and civilians followed two days of relative quiet throughout the Palestinian territories. Both sides said Monday's fighting seemed likely to inflame tensions further. The fighting left two Palestinians, a policeman and a teenager, dead and at least 50 people injured--almost all of them Palestinians.

The Israeli army said the teenage boy was shot when he tried to throw a Molotov cocktail at Israeli troops guarding Rachel's Tomb, a holy site on the outskirts of Bethlehem in the West Bank; Palestinians said he was caught in the violence as he tried to make his way home.

Two Israeli soldiers also were wounded, one moderately and one lightly, in a gunfight with Palestinian police near the Israeli-Egyptian border.

Crowley said Monday's violence only underscored the necessity of reaching an agreement at the summit.

"We recognize that the violence can't be turned off in one day," he said.

Written Threat From Arafat's Fatah Faction

In a statement released Monday, leaders of Arafat's Fatah movement said that, despite the summit, the fighting will continue until Israel dismantles all Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza.

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