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Clinton: 'It's time to close' Mideast deal

GRAPHIC

  CHAT TRANSCRIPT

In this story:

Two die as conflict continues

Arafat meets Mubarak

Clinton: 'They understand what I mean'

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. President Bill Clinton on Thursday ruled out meeting with Israeli and Palestinian leaders until they accept the framework he has proposed for a Mideast peace deal.

Clinton is still waiting for Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat to say whether he will accept the proposals.

"There is no point in our talking further unless both sides accept the parameters I have laid out," Clinton said. "It is time to close."

The proposals, made by Clinton last week to Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in Washington, envision a Palestinian state covering approximately 95 per cent of the West Bank and gives Palestinians sovereignty over the Temple Mount.

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Key points of U.S. peace proposals
 
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CNN's Mathew Chance says peace negotiators claim bombings won't derail latest talks (December 28)

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CNN's Major Garrett says U.S. President Bill Clinton is going 'to the brink' in 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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Chance

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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In exchange, the Palestinians would agree to an "end to the conflict" and relinquish the right of Palestinians to return to the state of Israel.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak has said he would accept Clinton's proposal as a basis for hammering out a final agreement, if the Palestinians also accept it. But Arafat hasn't responded except to ask, by letter, for clarification of Clinton's ideas.

Two die as conflict continues

Conflict continued unabated Thursday as explosions in Gaza and Tel Aviv killed two Israeli soldiers and injured at least 15 people.

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

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.

In response to the violence, the Israeli government announced it would close off the West Bank and Gaza on Thursday night. The move would further tighten restrictions on the movement of Palestinians within the territories.

Barak vowed to find those responsible for the attacks, but said the blasts would not affect the 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 Israel Defense Forces.

Arafat meets Mubarak

In Cairo, Egypt, Arafat met with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to discuss proposals made by Clinton on Saturday. "We are following all these ideas," Arafat said, 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.

"It's about details of maps, details of roads, about borders, details about refugees, about Jerusalem," he said. "These are the issues that make Palestinians breathe -- Jerusalem, settlement, refugees. The Israelis have said, 'If the Palestinians will accept, we will accept,' which makes more pressure on us."

The proposals are said to 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 Temples.

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.

Hasan Abdel Rahman, the Palestinian representative to Washington, told CNN the Clinton proposal is "ambiguous," but the Palestinian response to the proposal "indicates our seriousness."

"We are not looking for a pretext to say no. We are looking for a reason to proceed," he said. "We are not in a hurry to say no, but we can't say yes yet. This should be a final, permanent deal we can live with and it has to be very clear."

He said the Palestinians' experiences dealing with Israel have "not been great ones," and added that Israel has not lived up to agreements previously negotiated between the parties. This is a major reason, he said, that the proposal has to be "detailed" before Arafat can accept it.

Clinton: 'They understand what I mean'

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

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

Diplomatic sources said that moderate Arab states find the Clinton package to be "workable" and expected Arafat to accept its basic terms, but supported the call for clarification.

But one Israeli official said reports of Arafat's letter to Clinton requesting clarification might mean they are "wasting time and running out the clock."

Clinton said he believed the two sides were "much closer than we were at Camp David" to an agreement.

"I put some ideas on the table," Clinton 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."

Clinton said his proposals were based on what the two sides had told him over the last eight years. If an agreement can be reached, he said, "I'm convinced it's within the four corners I laid out."

He added: "They understand exactly what I mean. Both sides know exactly what I mean and they know exactly what they still have to do, and that's enough right now."

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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