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Start of Mideast negotiations not promising

Meetings undermined by violence in Gaza Strip

In this story:

June 12, 1997
Web posted at: 8:34 p.m. EDT (2034 GMT)

RAMALLAH, West Bank (CNN) -- Egyptian envoy Osama el-Baz met with Israeli and Palestinian leaders Thursday in an attempt to revive peace talks, but there were indications it will be a long and difficult process.

Soldiers clash with Palestinians
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"I would not advise raising any expectations," Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said after el-Baz met with Palestinian President Yasser Arafat. "Today's meeting demonstrated that there is a gap that exists between the two sides."

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Netanyahu el-Baz

El-Baz met with Arafat in the West Bank city of Ramallah after meeting in Tel Aviv with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

It was the first such meetings since negotiations ceased in March over the construction of a Jewish settlement in east Jerusalem, and it was undermined by an outbreak of violence in the Gaza Strip.

The trouble began after about 3,000 Palestinian protesters went to a disputed area near the Jewish settlement of Morag to plant olive and fruit trees. When Israeli troops ordered the Palestinians to leave, they hurled stones at the soldiers, who responded with tear gas and bullets.

A 72-year-old protester collapsed, apparently after inhaling tear gas. Doctors said he died from a heart attack.

Gaza situation 'tense and sensitive'

Two Palestinians were wounded by shrapnel and one by a rubber bullet, hospital officials said. A dozen other Palestinians were beaten with clubs by Israeli soldiers, according to witnesses.

In a second clash, Palestinian truckers blocked the entrance to a Gaza settlement to prevent the unveiling of a memorial for an Israeli soldier killed in a battle last fall between Israeli and Palestinian troops.

Palestinians hurled stones at Israeli cars stuck in the ensuing traffic jam, smashing several windshields. Shots were fired at one Israeli car.

The Israeli army said Palestinian police eventually restored order. But Brig. Gen. Yoav Galant, commander of Israeli forces in Gaza, called the current situation in the Gaza Strip "tense and sensitive."

The central issue in the negotiations continues to be Israel's construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and especially a new Jewish neighborhood in a disputed area of Jerusalem.

Israel occupied east Jerusalem in the 1967 Six Day War, and claims the whole city as its eternal, undivided capital in a move that is not recognized internationally.

Arafat determined to have Palestinian state

The Palestinians want an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with a capital in east Jerusalem.

Arafat told a visiting Arab-American group Wednesday that he would not stop until a Palestinian state had been established. "We have been fighting 100 years," he said, "and I say we are willing to fight another 100 years."

Netanyahu has refused to budge on Israeli expansion into territory it has occupied since 1967, although there have been media reports that say Israel is offering to slow the construction in Jerusalem to a near-halt.

El-Baz professes to be untroubled by the apparent stalemate.

"We will continue with more consultations and contacts in the coming period," he said after meeting with Arafat. "We hope this ... in a positive spirit will lead to a breakthrough in the situation that would allow the peace process to be preserved."

"The most important thing is to find a formula that will be acceptable to both parties for maintaining peace and stability and tranquillity in the region."

Palestinians angered by U.S. resolution

There was no indication that el-Baz had arranged another round of talks, but Erekat said it was premature to jump to conclusions about the success of the mission.

"We are continuing efforts ... to try to resume the peace talks and stabilize the security situation," Erekat said.

Further complicating the issue Thursday was a warning from a top Palestinian official that the Palestinians would pull out of the peace talks altogether, if the United States recognizes Jerusalem as Israel's capital and moves its embassy there.

The U.S. House of Representatives voted 406-17 Tuesday to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital and to allocate $100 million to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

"We refuse this resolution," said Ahmed Qureia, speaker of the Palestinian legislative council, "and we want to address a very clear message that this resolution will lead to more violence, and the American Congress will hold the responsibility."

The issue is so explosive that no major country has moved its embassy to Jerusalem.

Correspondent Walter Rodgers, The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.


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