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Hopes of reviving Mideast peace talks rest with U.S. envoy

Dennis Ross meets with 2 leaders Sunday

August 9, 1997
Web posted at: 9:50 p.m. EDT (0150 GMT)

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- U.S. envoy Dennis Ross arrived in Israel Saturday amid growing tension between Palestinians and Israelis, which in recent weeks has been acted out in air strikes, missile attacks and a double-suicide bombing.

Only hours before Ross' arrival, Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat accused Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of "state terrorism," referring to sanctions imposed by Israel after the July 30 blasts.

Earlier Saturday, Israeli fighter jets launched a cross-border air raid against a Hezbollah guerrilla training camp near the Lebanese village of Nabi Sheet. One guerrilla was killed and three others wounded.

It was the second Israeli strike in 24 hours. The first was aimed at the hilltop command post near Beirut of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine guerrilla group.

The two Israeli air strikes were in response to a rocket attack Friday in which missiles were launched from Lebanon against an Israeli border town. One woman was wounded.

Israeli Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai blamed the attack on Hezbollah guerrillas, but Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah denied his group was involved.

He also warned that Hezbollah may strike border towns if Israel continues to attack Palestinian targets.

Peace-seekers relying on Ross

The flare-up of fighting in the northern Israeli border region is the worst since Israel launched a 17-day blitz in April 1996. About 200 people were killed in those attacks.

Hopes for an end to the recent wave of violence were pinned on Ross' efforts to revive the stalled peace talks.

Ross is due to meet Arafat and Netanyahu Sunday to discuss how the two can begin talks on the status of Jerusalem and a final peace settlement.

During an emergency session of the Palestinian legislature Saturday, Arafat called on Israel to ease restrictions imposed after last month's suicide bombings in a Jerusalem market that killed 15 people.

After the bombings, Israel took the usual step of closing border crossings at the West Bank and Gaza Strip -- which it justifies as a means of keeping out terrorists -- and was withholding tax revenues that Israel owes the Palestinian Authority.

Arafat vows to help catch bombers

Arafat said Saturday he is ready to help Israel catch those responsible for the blasts.

"I am ready to participate with (Netanyahu) to discover, to unmask those responsible for those terrorist activities," he told CNN.

The Palestinians want the Americans to persuade Israel to lift its tough sanctions and freeze Jewish home-building in disputed areas, but they fear that Ross will focus solely on Israel's demands.

Saturday evening, Israel announced a slight easing of the closure on the West Bank cities of Jenin, Tulkarem and Qalqiliya. In addition, the Gaza-Egypt crossing at Rafah was being reopened, according to Israeli army radio.

"Dennis Ross is coming to discuss security issues. ... This means the American initiative is only based on one point," Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Saturday.

Netanyahu is expected to urge Arafat to clamp down on Islamic militant groups, especially Hamas, and restore full security cooperation with Israel.

Arafat has said the Palestinian Authority is doing as much as it can to control extremists. On Friday, Palestinian security forces arrested several people after discovering a bomb factory. The Palestinian leader said he would not order "mass arrests" of suspected terrorists.

"We are committed to peace, to the peace of the brave not the peace of dictation, orders, starvation and siege," Arafat said. "Our people will not kneel."

Beirut Bureau Chief Brent Sadler and Reuters contributed to this report.

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