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Barak rejects Palestinian 'right of return'
JERUSALEM (CNN) -- U.S. CIA Director George Tenet and senior Palestinian and Israeli negotiators were expected to hold a low-profile meeting near Cairo, Egypt, on Sunday to discuss ways to reduce Israeli-Palestinian violence.
Reducing the fighting -- which has continued for more than three months -- might lead to the resumption of negotiations for a lasting Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. Such a deal could be based on a set of proposals made to both sides by U.S. President Bill Clinton.
Both Israel and the Palestinian Authority have made it clear that they are waiting for a response from Clinton after both sides submitted their answers to Clinton's original proposals.
For security reasons, officials are releasing few details about Sunday's CIA meeting with Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in Egypt, including its location and time.
Both sides blame each other for the fighting which by Sunday had killed 329 Palestinians, according to the Palestinian Red Crescent Society, as well as 45 Israeli Jews and 13 Israeli Arabs, according to the Israel Defense Forces.
Clinton clock ticking
Clinton has less than two weeks remaining as president before Republican President-elect George W. Bush assumes the office. U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said the change in leadership is no reason to discontinue Clinton's peacemaking efforts.
"I think it's very important for the president to do what he can do while he has the ability to do it," Albright said Sunday on CNN's "Late Edition."
"And we're going to keep working on trying to develop some way to get (Israel and the Palestinian Authority) to agree on some basic principles," Albright said. "Because I think it's useful to the next administration and, frankly, in my conversations with my successor (retired Gen. Colin Powell) I think they have found that it would be wonderful if we could take this (Mideast situation) off the table."
Arafat meets with Jordan's king
Meanwhile, Jordan's King Abdullah II met with Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat in Amman on Sunday and announced his support of Arafat's demand that any peace deal with Israel grant hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees the so-called right of return, Jordanian state news agency Petra said.
Under the Clinton plan, the Palestinians would give up their claims to the right of refugees who were displaced in 1948 to return to their homes inside Israel. In exchange, Palestinians would be granted sovereignty over parts of historically Arab East Jerusalem, which Israel has controlled since 1967.
During a Saturday night speech to a group of Jewish students, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak indicated his firm opposition to the right of return.
"Let me say it loud and clear: We will not agree to the right of return into Israel," Barak said. "I do not intend to sign any document that passes sovereignty over the Temple Mount to the Palestinians."
The Jewish shrine called Temple Mount is known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, the third holiest site in the Islamic world. Palestinians want sovereignty over the Noble Sanctuary and seek to make Jerusalem the capital of an independent Palestinian state.
Israeli Cabinet meets
Barak briefed his Cabinet on Sunday on the latest developments in the peace process. He made it quite clear that he is still looking for a reduction in the level of violence before he would go forward with formal peace negotiations with the Palestinians.
But Barak also faced increased political pressure to reach a peace deal with the Palestinians, which might help him win re-election in next month's scheduled vote for prime minister.
Pressure increased on Barak to stand aside as the Labor Party candidate to make room for former Prime Minister Shimon Peres. Recent voter polls suggest that Peres might have a better chance of defeating hard-line Likud candidate Ariel Sharon.
Fighting continued between Israelis and Palestinians in various locations on Sunday, particularly in the Jewish settlement of Psagot in the West Bank, where there were reports of exchanges of gunfire.
A young Palestinian woman was shot dead while driving near a Jewish settlement in the area of the West Bank town of Nablus, according to a Palestinian hospital source.
In addition, Israel confirmed on Sunday it is moving some of its military checkpoints deeper into Palestinian-controlled territory.
Israel says this is necessary to protect its civilians who Israel Defense Forces say have been coming under attack from Palestinians. Palestinians say moving checkpoints creates a de facto moving boundary on the ground, pushing the Israeli sphere of influence even further into the Palestinian territories.
CNN Jerusalem Bureau Chief Mike Hanna and Reuters contributed to this report.
Clock running down for Clinton's hopes for Mideast deal
Israeli Prime Minister's Office
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