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Israelis: Netanyahu-Arafat meeting 'very likely'

ross and arafat

Militant Islamic groups vow revenge for shooting

January 2, 1997
Web posted at: 9:20 a.m. EST (1420 GMT)

HEBRON, West Bank (CNN) -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat were likely to meet Thursday to initial a deal on Israeli troops redeployment in Hebron, according to a spokesman for the prime minister.

Palestinian officials were less optimistic, telling CNN that there are still some important issues to be resolved. Although they did not discount the possibility of a Thursday meeting, they said it was possible rather than probable.

Netanyahu

But Netanyahu spokesman David Bar Illan said that the prime minister believed negotiators could finish their work Thursday, paving the way for his meeting with Arafat.

Negotiations were postponed briefly Wednesday after an Israeli soldier opened fire with an M-16 rifle in the West Bank city's market, wounding seven Palestinians in an effort to scuttle the deal.

The militant group Islamic Jihad distributed a leaflet vowing revenge for the attack, and Israeli news reports said that the militant wing of Hamas also vowed to avenge the shooting. The Islamic Jihad leaflet called the Hebron deal "an agreement of shame," and said that the marketplace shooting would spark more attacks on Palestinians.

Negotiations resumed Wednesday evening when Israeli Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai met with Arafat's deputy at the home of U.S. Ambassador Martin Indyk to resolve remaining differences.

Mordechai said after the meeting, which lasted until early Thursday, that one or two points of difference remained, Israel radio reported late Wednesday.

Gunman wanted to sabotage deal

The shooting, earlier in the day, involved an off-duty Israeli soldier who sprayed bullets at Arabs in a Hebron market, in an attempt to sabotage a possible deal on handing over most of Hebron to Palestinian rule.

The gunman, Pvt. Noam Friedman, 22, was an off-duty soldier from a Jewish settlement near Jerusalem. He was expelled recently from a Jewish seminary and had been advised to seek psychiatric help. Israel TV reported he had been drafted into the army despite a psychiatrist's recommendation against it.

arrest

After Friedman opened fire into the crowded market, Israeli troops tackled him and prevented additional casualties.

Netanyahu condemned the attack as a "criminal act" in a phone call to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, and U.S. President Bill Clinton said the incident was "cowardly."

Hebron -- home to 150,000 Palestinians and 450 Jewish settlers -- had been tense for weeks as a long-delayed deal painstakingly nears completion.

Wednesday's shooting stirred memories of the 1994 Hebron mosque massacre, when settler Baruch Goldstein opened fire on Muslim worshipers inside the Tomb of the Patriarchs, killing 29 Palestinians.

U.S. envoy Dennis Ross, who spoke with both Netanyahu and Arafat Wednesday, called on both sides to double their efforts in the wake of the attack.

"Those who use violence cannot be permitted to be the arbiters of the future," Ross said


Correspondent Jerrold Kessel and Reuters contributed to this report.

 
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