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Clinton to send special envoy back to Mideast

Woman fatally shot in West Bank


In this story:

Clinton crosses his fingers

Albright defends peace efforts

Right of return and Jerusalem

Israeli Cabinet meets

Continued clashes

RELATED STORIES, SITES icon



NEW YORK (CNN) -- In another last-ditch effort to get a peace deal before leaving office, U.S. President Bill Clinton has decided to send special Middle East envoy Dennis Ross to the region to meet with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, senior administration officials told CNN on Sunday.

Clinton will announce his decision during a speech Sunday evening to the Israeli Policy Forum in New York.

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Following Ross' separate talks with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, the president will decide what the next step should be, the officials said.

It was unclear when Ross would depart, although the officials said he could travel Monday for meetings Tuesday.

Meanwhile, CIA Director George Tenet was in Cairo, Egypt, on Sunday to discuss high-level security issues with senior Israeli and Palestinian officials.

For security reasons, officials withheld details about Sunday's CIA meeting with Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in Egypt, including its location and time.

Clinton crosses his fingers

When asked if it was still possible to achieve a peace deal over the last 13 days of the Clinton administration, a senior official told reporters traveling on Air Force One that it "would be difficult, but we don't want to rule it out."

"Ultimately, the parties will have to decide," said another senior administration official, adding that the administration is willing to go as far as the parties want to go.

The Clinton administration is continuing negotiations on two tracks, one focused on getting "the violence down and hopefully to eliminate it," and the other to try to move to a peaceful resolution, said the senior official on Air Force One.

Clinton left the White House for New York, crossing his fingers, signaling he is still holding out hope for a breakthrough on his watch.

Albright defends peace efforts

Observers have cautioned that, without a peace deal before Clinton leaves office in less than two weeks, the climate will only get worse.

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said Sunday that the president has a "unique ability" to negotiate with the two sides. She also defended him from Republican suggestions that the president's last-ditch peace efforts were an attempt to ensure his legacy.

"I could end my career as secretary of state with a barnyard expletive, but I will not do that," she responded 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."

Right of return and Jerusalem

Meanwhile, Jordan's King Abdullah II met with Arafat in Amman, Jordan, on Sunday and announced his support for Arafat's demand that any peace deal with Israel grant hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees the right of return, Jordanian state news agency Petra said.

Under the Clinton plan, the Palestinians would give up their demand for a right of return for refugees who were displaced in 1948, when the state of Israel was created. 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, Barak indicated his firm opposition to the right of return.

"Let me say loud and clear, we will not agree to the right of return into Israel, and I do not intend to sign any document which passes sovereignty on the Temple Mount to the Palestinians," Barak said.

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 clear that he is still looking for a reduction in the level of violence before he will go forward with formal peace negotiations with the Palestinians.

But Barak also faces 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 has 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 in the February 6 elections.

Continued clashes

Both sides blame each other for more than three months of fighting between Israelis and Palestinians. More than 380 people have died, most of them Palestinians.

Fighting continued 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 24-year-old Palestinian woman was shot to death on a road in Nablus in the West Bank on Sunday while driving her car, the Red Crescent told CNN. It was not immediately clear who shot her.

Also on Sunday, Israel confirmed that it is moving some of its military checkpoints deeper into Palestinian-controlled territory.

Israel says this is necessary to protect civilians whom the 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 White House Correspondent Kelly Wallace, Jerusalem Bureau Chief Mike Hanna and Reuters contributed to this report.



RELATED STORIES:
Clock running down for Clinton's hopes for Mideast deal
January 6, 2001
Israeli negotiator: 'We are waiting for the president now'
January 5, 2001
Israeli envoy to present written reaction to peace proposal
January 4, 2001
Arafat meets Mubarak, will consult Arab ministers on U.S. peace proposals
January 3, 2001
Arafat concludes second meeting with Clinton
January 2, 2001
Clinton and Arafat to meet Tuesday to discuss framework for peace
January 1, 2001

RELATED SITES:
Israeli Prime Minister's Office
Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs
The White House
Palestinian National Authority
Palestinian Position on Clinton's Proposals

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