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Israel considers 'time out' as Mideast clashes intensify
Palestinians appeal to Clinton for help
JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Prime Minister Ehud Barak announced today that Israel might take "time out" after this weekend's Arab League summit to reassess the crisis in the Mideast after Israeli-Palestinian clashes in the West Bank left at least 9 Palestinians dead.
"Immediately after the summit, particularly if as we see now, the Sharm (el-Sheikh) conclusions are not bringing about a quieting down, we will declare a time out period in order to re-evaluate the situation, re-evaluate the political process," Barak said in an interview taped for Israeli TV.
Barak said he did not know how long such a time out would last. "Days, weeks, however long is necessary to evaluate what the other side is doing," he said.
Saeb Erakat, chief Palestinian negotiator, on Friday described Israel's announcement as "inappropriate."
"I'm afraid the worst is yet to come," Erakat said on CNN.
Palestinians and Israeli soldiers were fighting as a transition period to calm tensions -- agreed to by Israelis and Palestinians -- was passing.
According to officials of the Red Crescent and officials at West Bank hospitals, among the nine killed were five Palestinians in and around the West Bank city of Nablus.
Four of them were shot to death in a firefight between Palestinian gunmen hiding in a group of trees and Israeli soldiers. Other deaths in the area include a Palestinian man who was killed in Ramallah. One was killed in Tulkarem and another in Jenin.
All were shot to death in skirmishes with Israeli soldiers, the officials said.
One Palestinian and one Israeli were killed as well on Thursday in gunfights in the West Bank city of Nablus.
Israeli spokesman Avi Pazner told CNN that Israel would wait until this weekend's Arab League summit is over and then "reassess where are we going from now because it is impossible ... to continue a peace process as if nothing happened in the last two or three weeks."
The clashes came at the end of the 48-hour "transition period" toward an Israeli-Palestinian truce. Both sides were expected to take the next step toward the truce, assessing what actions had been taken toward defusing the violence of the past three weeks. The fighting has killed more than 100 people, most of them Palestinians.
"What we have seen in those 48 hours is not that there is a cease-fire progressing, but on the contrary we have seen more violent incidents as before ... and the Palestinian Authority has done very little if (anything) at all to stop the fighting," Pazner told CNN.
Arafat talks to Clinton
Erakat expressed anger about Friday's clashes, and called on U.S. President Bill Clinton to "personally interfere to tell the world who's responsible."
"If they (Israel) are going to say in English that they want peace and ... then give their orders in Hebrew to their settlers and to their army to continue this killing rampage, that absolutely cannot be tolerated," Erakat told CNN.
Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat called Clinton late Friday to tell him he was doing everything he could to calm Palestinian violence, the White House said. Clinton urged Arafat to do more, and appealed to him to take that message to the Arab summit in Cairo this weekend, the White House told CNN.
Before Friday's clashes broke out, Israeli officials, who have blamed Palestinians for the fighting, expressed doubt that Arafat was in control of Palestinian protesters.
"We expect obviously Arafat and his political entourage to convey to the Palestinian security system the appropriate instructions," acting Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami told CNN. "The problem here is we are not very sure that the Palestinian system is an orderly system that operates under clear-cut instructions."
Scuffles at holy site
Before Friday's West Bank fighting broke out, tensions were particularly high in Jerusalem's walled Old City where Muslim worshippers gathered Friday morning for weekly prayers.
Israeli police prevented all Muslim men under age 40 from entering the al-Aqsa mosque, a move that sparked shouting, shoving and scuffles between Palestinians and police.
The Old City is the location of religious sites sacred to both Muslims and Jews. The three-week wave of violence broke out when hawkish Israeli opposition Likud Party leader Ariel Sharon visited the Old City on September 28, a visit considered a provocation by Palestinians and which Sharon defended as his right.
Sharon has denied blame for the clashes, accusing Palestinians of using his visit as an excuse to attack Israeli soldiers.
Assessing the transition period
The new fighting came as the 48-hour period aimed at easing tensions between both sides passed. Israel and the Palestinian Authority had announced the transition period on Tuesday after an emergency summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.
Under the Sharm el-Sheikh agreement, Israel agreed to re-open the Palestinian airport in Gaza, to re-deploy its military positions in Palestinian-controlled territories and to re-open border checkpoints in the West Bank and Gaza to allow Palestinians free passage.
Both sides agreed to condemn violence.
"Some of the conditions of (the agreement) have been implemented," said United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan at a news conference on Friday. He added that the next 48 hours would be crucial to the cease-fire agreement.
"We have opened the closure of the West Bank," Pazner told CNN. "We have opened the (Gaza) airport, we have even re-deployed some of our (military) units. On the other hand ... the Palestinians have not rearrested the terrorists of the Hamas who are preparing right now ... terrorist acts against Israel."
At the scene of this weekend's Arab League summit in Cario, Egypt, leaders of Arab nations were gathering Friday, planning to discuss their stance on the Mideast crisis. Arafat was expected to attend, Pazner said.
"Arafat is not interested to go to a summit when things are quiet," Pazner said. "Arafat needs violence to go to summit accompanied by the noises of violence in the territories."
Late Thursday, U.S. President Bill Clinton spoke by telephone with Arafat and Barak.
Clinton expressed concern to both leaders about incidents of violence that occurred Thursday in Israel and the Palestinian territories. He also encouraged both to comply with and implement the Sharm el-Sheikh agreement and do all they can to restore calm in the region.
Clinton told reporters later that neither Barak nor Arafat want the peace process to stop.
"They desperately don't want it to come apart," he said.
However, Barak said Friday he will go ahead with plans to form a national coalition government and will contact other parties to form what he calls a "government of emergency."
Sharon said he was considering Barak's offer for him to join the coalition.
Israeli, Palestinians trade charges at U.N. session
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