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Barak's meeting with Clinton postponed by Russian hijacking
Barak 'lowers expectations' for Washington visit
Barak's meeting, however, was abruptly postponed early Sunday when a hijacked Russian airliner landed in southern Israel. Barak, enroute to the United States, turned around in London and headed back to Israel.
Meanwhile, the Palestinian Red Crescent said seven Palestinians died Saturday and 64 were injured in clashes with Israeli soldiers on the West Bank and Gaza.
In Gaza, the Israeli Army said two Palestinians in a car opened fire on Israeli soldiers in a Jeep. The Israelis said they returned the fire, killing two Palestinians.
Palestinians denied opening fire on the Israelis.
Among the injured was a 16-year-old in critical condition.
Mind and eyes open
Israeli officials told CNN Barak was looking for avenues to resume peace negotiations with the Palestinians.
"We want to see if there is still a way to go forward with the peace process," said one Israeli official.
An Israeli official said Barak had planned to go to Washington with not only an open mind, but also with his eyes open to the difficulties in getting back to the peace table.
"We don't have rose-colored glasses," the official said. "We are aware of the problems involved."
'Writing new rules'
U.S. officials rejected Yasser Arafat's appeal for an international protection force to buffer the Palestinians and Israelis in the Middle East, arguing that such a plan must have the support of both sides in the conflict.
Arafat's proposal met with a cool reception during his meeting with Clinton on Thursday. The White House, citing Barak's refusal to consider such a force, said the two sides should concentrate on what they share in common rather than their differences.
Israeli officials see Arafat's attempt to expand the players in the peace process and include the United Nations and European Union as "writing new rules of the game." This, said one official, "questions American legitimacy in the process, and basically says what has been done over the last seven years is no good."
Israeli officials also say they have not seen an attempt by the Palestinians to "lower the violence," and that Arafat has been sending "conflicting messages" to his security service, Palestinian militants and the public about his desire to see the recent conflict end.
"He hasn't done enough to tone it down," said one official.
Arafat said during an address to the Council on Foreign Relations that his people were "besieged" by Israeli gunfire. He blamed the Palestinian uprising on the visit of Israeli hard-liner Ariel Sharon to Muslim holy sites.
But the Palestinian leader said Thursday he was willing to attend another summit with President Clinton but only if it were well-prepared "to ensure its success."
Death count rises
While the diplomatic channels churned at the U.N., bitter fighting between Palestinians and Israeli security forces entered a seventh week with three Palestinians and an Israeli soldier killed in Gaza and West Bank battles.
The death toll in the fighting reached 206 people -- 174 Palestinians and 32 Israelis, of whom at least 13 were Israeli Arabs.
Friday's confrontations followed the funeral of Hussein Abayat, a local Palestinian leader killed in an Israeli rocket attack on Thursday.
Members of Arafat's Fatah party vowed retaliation on Israel for Abayat's death, which they called an assassination.
Militant Palestinians had declared Friday another "day of rage," and called Thursday's attack an "act of terrorism." Two Palestinian women bystanders were also killed in the attack and eight people were wounded.
Israel claimed Abayat was a mastermind of violent attacks against Israelis in the West Bank. The vehicle Abayat was riding in, Israel said, was targeted because Israel Defense Forces (IDF) identified it as the source of several shootings in the area.
After meeting with Clinton, Arafat's next stop is U.N.
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