Israel, Palestinians agree to security talks, but scope unclear
JERUSALEM (AP) – New U.S. mediation efforts appeared to be yielding some results Monday with an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians to resume talks on security cooperation. The scope of the meetings, however, wasn’t clear.
The agreement came as new U.S. envoy William Burns held a second round of meetings with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in the autonomous West Bank town of Ramallah and later with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in Jerusalem.
Palestinian Planning Minister Nabil Shaath said Monday the new talks on security cooperation should include political discussions, such as putting together a plan to implement international proposals on ending eight months of violence.
But Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer spoke only of security talks.
Israel has said it won’t resume political negotiations while Palestinian violence continues. The Palestinian side has said security and political issues must be discussed as a package.
With such differences between the two, it wasn’t clear how in-depth the talks would be or what would be covered.
But Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres stressed the talks, which have been effectively stalled for months, must resume quickly to take advantage of the momentum from Burns’ visit.
”Tomorrow night, in our view, the meetings can start between our security officials and theirs, in order to carry out the first stage of the Mitchell report,” he told Israel television.
After his first round of meetings Sunday, Burns urged Arafat to do everything possible to stop attacks on Israel and called on both sides to implement a cease-fire and the recommendations of the so-called Mitchell commission.
The commission led by former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell had called for an end to violence and for a series of confidence-building measures, including a freeze on building in Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza.
Israel had initially objected to the settlement clause of the Mitchell report, saying it would have to maintain some construction to account for ”natural growth.”
But Sharon told Burns on Sunday that Israel ”accepted and adopted” the Mitchell report. Spokesman Ranaan Gissin made no specific reference to the settlement issue, saying only that the sequence of events for implementing the report must start with a cessation of hostilities and be followed by a cooling-off period and then confidence-building measures.
Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo dismissed Sharon’s acceptance of the Mitchell report Monday, saying Israel had an ”imaginary view” of what was contained in the paper.
In the meeting Monday, Arafat showed Burns a map of what he said was new settlement construction activity, Palestinian Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat told reporters after the session ended.
”We want from Israel a clear and firm decision regarding freezing and stopping the settlement activities, especially the so-called natural growth,” Shaath said.
Arafat was heading to Russia on Tuesday for talks on the new diplomatic initiatives with Russian President Vladimir Putin. He was also expected to meet with the prime minister of Sweden, which holds the European Union presidency, in Denmark, a Swedish spokesman said.
Sharon assured Burns on Sunday that the cease-fire he announced last week would continue, but stressed that Israel’s patience wasn’t indefinite, Israeli officials said. The Palestinians have dismissed the cease-fire offer as insincere and gunfights have continued.
Since fighting erupted last September, 478 people have been killed on the Palestinian side and 85 on the Israeli side.
The Israeli army on Monday staged new incursions in the Gaza Strip, witnesses said. Two Israeli tanks, an armored vehicle and two bulldozers entered an area east of Karni, destroying two farms and cutting 70 olive trees, said farm owner Mohammed Daloul, 39.
An army spokesman said the bulldozers knocked down the olive trees to get a better view over a fence that was being repaired to separate Israeli and Palestinian territory.
In the West Bank town of Nablus, meanwhile, a Palestinian university student belonging to the militant group Hamas was seriously injured after a bomb he was putting together exploded in his house, Palestinian police said.
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