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Gaza explosion reportedly kills at least 2 Israeli soldiers

Israelis, Palestinians study Clinton peace proposals as summit stalls


In this story:

Palestinians seek clarification

Summit canceled 'for the time being'

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JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Uncertainty plagued the quest for peace in the Middle East on Thursday after explosions in Gaza and Tel Aviv left at least two Israeli soldiers dead, according to Israeli military sources, and at least 15 other people injured.

Responding to the violence, the Israeli government announced that a full closure of the West Bank and Gaza would go into effect Thursday night. The move would tighten restrictions already in place on the movement of Palestinians within the territories.

The military sources reported that two soldiers were killed at the Sufa crossing checkpoint between Israel and Palestinian-controlled Gaza. The explosion occurred while Israeli soldiers were attempting to defuse a bomb found alongside the road.

At least two other people were injured in the blast.

The Gaza blast followed explosions around midday in and around a bus on a main Tel Aviv street, which injured at least 13 people, one seriously.

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Key points of U.S. peace proposals
 
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CNN's Mike Hanna reports on the latest developments in the Mideast negotiations (December 28)

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Three explosions went off in and around a bus in the Israeli city of Tel Aviv (December 28)

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CNN's Major Garrett reports on Clinton's support on Israeli-Palestinian peace (December 28)

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Mathew Chance describes the Tel Aviv blast scene

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Wedeman CNN's Ben Wedeman discusses reservations about U.S. peace proposals

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Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who earlier canceled plans to attend a summit with Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, vowed to find those responsible for the attacks, but said the blasts would not affect the ongoing peace process.

"We will continue our determined war against terror, and as in the past, will get at those who carry out these acts," he said in a statement. "The criminal attack won't crack our determination to bring real security through an end to the conflict and to bloodshed in the area."

There were no immediate claims of responsibility for either blast.

The latest deaths raise the toll in three months of violence between Israelis and Palestinians to at least 375 -- 321 Palestinians, according to the Palestine Red Crescent Society and 41 Israeli Jews and 13 Israeli Arabs, according to the IDF.

Palestinians seek clarification

Meanwhile, Arafat met with Mubarak in Cairo to discuss proposals presented to the two sides by U.S. President Bill Clinton on Saturday. The proposals call for compromise from each side in order to reach agreement on the key issues separating them.

But the Palestinians want more details on the proposals.

"We have submitted a few (requests for) clarifications to the American side, because this agreement at the end of the day will be an agreement of details, whether they are geographic maps or details of substance of the agreements," said chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat. "We are not seeking to have a declaration of principles. We are seeking the reach of a comprehensive agreement."

After his meeting with Mubarak, Arafat said that he was still discussing the U.S. offering "with our Arab brothers."

The White House received a letter from Arafat on Wednesday regarding the Clinton proposals, but U.S. officials said the response "is not an acceptance or a rejection."

In Washington, Clinton said he condemned the latest violence, and added that he believed the two sides were "much closer than we were at Camp David" to an agreement.

"I put some ideas on the table," the president said. "They go beyond where we were at Camp David. They meet the fundamental needs that both sides expressed at Camp David. And Israel has said that they would agree to try to close the remaining gaps within the parameters of what I put forward if the Palestinians will agree. This latest violence only reminds people what the alternative to peace is."

The proposals reportedly grant the Palestinians sovereignty over the Muslim holy site Haram al-Sharif -- called the Temple Mount by Jews -- while the Israelis would have sovereignty over the Western Wall, which is the sole remaining segment of the ancient Jewish Temple.

They also address the refugee issue, calling for the resettlement of thousands of Palestinians in Palestinian-controlled land rather than in Israel, although Israel would provide some compensation.

Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled their homes when Israel became an independent state in 1948, and again in 1967 after the Arab-Israeli war that ended with Israel's seizure of the West Bank and Gaza.

Summit canceled 'for the time being'

After two long meetings on Wednesday of the Israeli cabinet, ministers decided that Clinton's proposals for a peace accord were "an acceptable basis for negotiations," Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh said.

Sneh said Israelis were concerned about access to holy sites in Jerusalem, security issues and Palestinian refugees, but he said he believed it is possible to work out those details.

"We still believe that there is a way to achieve quite soon an agreement, but it takes two to tango and the Palestinian side has to display a flexibility," he said.

Sneh said that a Barak-Arafat summit was called off "for the time being" but "is not officially canceled."

Earlier this week, Barak said that the Israelis would find it difficult to reject the Clinton ideas if the Palestinians accepted them.

Many Palestinians, however -- including some members of Arafat's own Fatah movement -- see the proposals as political gambits from Clinton, who leaves office on January 20 and would like to have a Mideast peace agreement under his belt, and Barak, who faces a special election on February 6 and considers the vote a referendum on his policies.

Arafat has drawn particular criticism from Palestinians who insist that the refugees be allowed to return to Israel. Israel opposes the right of return, fearing it would upset the population balance of the Jewish state.

CNN Jerusalem Bureau Chief Mike Hanna, CNN Cairo Bureau Chief Ben Wedeman and Correspondent Matthew Chance contributed to this report.



RELATED STORIES:
Mideast summit in Egypt called off
December 27, 2000
Clinton expects to hear from Arafat, Barak by Wednesday
December 26, 2000
Mideast peace at 'moment of truth'
December 24, 2000
Mideast talks inconclusive
December 23, 2000
Israeli, Palestinian negotiators take up difficult issues with Clinton
December 23, 2000
Mike Hanna: Mideast officials on each side under pressure at home
December 22, 2000
Mideast negotiators 'reducing the differences'
December 22, 2000

RELATED SITES:
Israel Defense Forces (in Hebrew)
Israeli Prime Minister's Office
Palestinian Authority President
The White House

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