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Ross returns to Mideast to nudge peace process

Ross May 7, 1997
Web posted at: 12:11 p.m. EDT (1611 GMT)

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- U.S. envoy Dennis Ross is bringing a new Mideast peace initiative to meetings with the leaders of Israel and the Palestinians, Israeli newspapers reported Wednesday.

Ross, in his second shuttle mission to the Middle East in a month, was to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Yasser Arafat separately Wednesday evening.

According to the newspaper reports, Ross' new proposal could include a freeze on Israeli construction projects and a pledge from Arafat to share intelligence information about suspected terrorist activities.

Both sides held out some hope that Ross could nudge the stalled peace process forward.

"The solution is in the hands of Dennis Ross," said Palestinian municipal affairs minister Saeb Erakat. "We hope he is coming to save the process."

"There seems to be movement whenever Dennis Ross is around," said Netanyahu adviser David Bar-Illan, "and therefore it would be wrong to expect dramatic developments but it would be at least as wrong to be pessimistic."

Talks broke off in March when Israel began construction on a housing project in East Jerusalem, a project strongly opposed by the Palestinians.

Arafat met Tuesday with Israeli President Ezer Weizman, who said the Palestinian had agreed to resume security cooperation with the Israelis. Arafat said that he had agreed to do so only in cooperation with U.S. security officials.

Control Tower

Palestinians say they are ready to accept Israel's security conditions in order to open a nearly complete international airport near Rafah in the Gaza Strip.

"The airport is one of the most important symbols of the Palestinian state," said Zaidan Fayez, director of the Palestinian Civil Aviation Authority. "As Palestinians our target is to achieve the Palestinian state and the airport."

The Israelis, however, are not satisfied with the arrangements, and the airport remains closed to commercial air traffic.

Correspondent Jerrold Kessel and Reuters contributed to this report.

Struggle For Peace

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