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Michael Holmes: Zinni's Mideast challenge

CNN's Michael Holmes
CNN's Michael Holmes  

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- After 18 months of deadly clashes between Israelis and Palestinians, U.S. special envoy Gen. Anthony Zinni is back in the Middle East meeting with top officials from both sides in hopes of brokering a cease-fire. CNN correspondent Michael Holmes is covering the latest diplomatic effort.

HOLMES: Anthony Zinni continues his efforts to try to bring about some sort of cease-fire here. Just a short time ago he concluded a meeting with several senior Palestinians, including chief negotiator Saeb Erakat. He then had lunch with those senior officials, and Yasser Arafat came along too, so obviously [there were] some off-the-record ... talks there at that lunch.

Now, I can tell you that perhaps there is some news from this meeting. Palestinian sources tell us that talks, if they can be arranged, between the Palestinians and the Israelis will include political talks and not just security issues.

Now, what this would mean is that they wouldn't be just talking about a cease-fire, which was Gen. Zinni's ... sole stated mission here, but they would include broader political talks. That would be very significant, indeed, if they could go past the cease-fire and start talking about some of the other issues.

Palestinians, we're told, also reiterated at the meeting today with Gen. Zinni that no substantive talks can take place until Israeli troops are out of all Palestinian-controlled areas, the so-called Areas A. [Israeli] troops do remain in several areas, including Bethlehem, where there were exchanges of fire Friday night.

And there was a lot of firing going on for a period of time there in Bethlehem. ... Palestinian sources tell us that two Palestinians were shot and killed by Israeli forces overnight in separate incidents. ... The Palestinians are saying no substantive talks until encounters like that in Palestinian-controlled areas end and all troops move out. ...

Back to Gen. Zinni. He's later on [Saturday] going to be meeting again with Ariel Sharon, the Israeli prime minister. The meeting will [take] place at the prime minister's ranch, his farm, in southern Israel. And they will be talking once again.

Relative calm here overnight, despite those incidents we just discussed. There was also a funeral [Saturday] that we should mention of a Palestinian woman, her three children and young nephew, killed when their donkey cart hit an explosive device. Palestinians claim it was set by Israelis; Israelis claim it wasn't them at all.

And it is, of course, the Sabbath. ... The last two Saturday nights here have seen terrorist incidents or bombings. And if that were to occur again this week, it would certainly dampen Zinni's chances of getting these two sides to talk.




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