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Arafat heads to U.N. as violence continues in Mideast
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat heads to the United Nations on Friday to seek support for a proposed U.N. protection force in Gaza and the West Bank.
Meanwhile on Friday, more violence was reported in the Mideast. An explosion in East Jerusalem slightly injured a policeman, CNN confirmed. Authorities are searching for explosive material, and have not yet determined the cause of the blast. On Thursday, an Israeli attack helicopter fired missiles at a van, killing a Fatah member and two bystanders.
Speaking Thursday night at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, Arafat said the force proposal "was one of the major points I presented to, and requested from, President (Bill) Clinton" when the two met Thursday at the White House.
Seeking to counter Israel's refusal to consider such a buffer force, Arafat said: "Between Israel and Egypt there is an international force. Between Lebanon and Israel there is an international force. Between Israel and Syria there is an international force."
But Israel is opposed to the idea because such a force would "reward" Palestinian violence, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak said.
The White House said that as long as Israel is opposed to such a force, the two sides should focus on where they agree.
"To spend too much time on it right now just simply diverts us then from bringing the violence under control," said U.S. national security adviser Sandy Berger. "It can't be done unless both parties want it done."
Arafat praised Clinton for his commitment to resolving conflict in the Mideast, and said the two had a "constructive and positive meeting" Thursday afternoon at the White House.
The meeting came on the same day Israeli forces targeted a van carrying Fatah members, claiming the occupants "were on their way to another attack on Israelis."
An Israeli attack helicopter launched missiles at the van, killing 56-year-old Hussein Abayat, a Fatah member and local leader of intifada.
The missile attack also killed two bystanders, a woman standing on the street and a woman inside her home nearby, while three people in the van and five bystanders were injured.
Fatah leader Hussein Sheikh called the attack a serious escalation and accused the Israel Defense Forces of targeting and attempting to assassinate Fatah leaders.
"This will only make us more determined," he told CNN, warning that the Israelis should "expect a violent response." He said Israel was pushing the Palestinians into "a new phase of violence which we did not want to enter."
Fatah is a political party led by Arafat and a faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the attack "raises serious issues" about the direction of the crisis in the Mideast, but stopped short of condemning the attack.
Arafat: 'I am not the one attacking'
As he left the White House, Arafat said he and Clinton had "discussed all issues into great detail," including the Palestinian desire for the U.N. protection force.
Arafat will hold a closed meeting with the U.N. Security Council on Friday morning to push for the U.N. protection force.
"I thank President Clinton's commitment, and the efforts he is exerting on all levels to ensure the peace process," Arafat said through an interpreter outside the White House.
Asked by a reporter if he was willing to stop the violence in the Mideast, Arafat said, "I am not the one who initiated the violence. I am not the one attacking."
Missile attack 'a pre-emptive operation'
In a statement, the IDF reported that "missiles were launched by IDF helicopters at the vehicle of a senior Fatah/Tanzim activist. The pilots reported an accurate hit."
The IDF said the pre-emptive attack was launched after identifying the vehicle as "a source of multiple firing on Rachel's Tomb and ... Gilo," a predominantly Jewish enclave on the outskirts of Jerusalem.
One of the men in the vehicle, identified as Abayat aide Khaled Salahat, was critically wounded. Hospital officials described the other injuries as ranging from moderate to serious. The IDF identifies Tanzim as a Fatah militia.
"Today it was a pre-emptive operation because those terrorists that were killed were on their way to another attack on Israelis ..." said Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh. "It should be very, very clear, if the game is a guerrilla war, we are the champions of the world in this game."
Fatah calls attack 'terrorist action'
Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti called the attack a "terrorist action" aimed at "putting an end to this peaceful intifada."
"We are looking for peace, and we hope that one day we will see the real peace on the ground," Barghouti told CNN. "The Israelis cannot keep occupation and ask the Palestinians for security and stability and peace. They have to choose."
The IDF statement mentioned fatal attacks on Israeli soldiers on October 2 and November 1 and another attack on October 17 that resulted in serious wounds for an Israeli border guard.
Ehud Barak's office offered no comment on the Palestinian allegations, but Israeli soldiers blocked the Jerusalem-Bethlehem checkpoint on the road to Rachel's Tomb, preventing Jewish settlers from reaching the biblical holy site for an annual prayer gathering.
The army had planned to bring worshippers to the site in armored vehicles, but those plans changed when Israel received what Sneh said were "concrete warnings of plans to carry out an attack at the shrine itself."
Barak to meet with Clinton
Arafat arrived in Washington early on Thursday for the meeting with Clinton. Barak is expected to arrive for a meeting with Clinton on Sunday. Barak and Arafat are not scheduled to meet.
Clinton invited the two leaders to Washington in another effort to end six weeks of bitter violence that has killed 202 people: 171 Palestinians, 13 Israeli Arabs and 18 Israeli Jews.
The two Mideast leaders have pointedly blamed each other for the continuation of the violence.
"The basic ingredient for all the ails that we are witnessing there is the continuation of the Israeli occupation, and this must end," said Palestinian Cabinet Minister Saeb Erakat, who traveled to Washington with Arafat. "President Arafat is determined to exert every possible effort in order to ensure ... the Israeli occupation is finished and peace is made once and all."
On Wednesday, Barak said he was prepared to back the declaration of a Palestinian state, provided the state is established through negotiations and not violence.
U.S. names Mitchell to head Mideast fact-finding commission vessel
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