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Arafat reluctantly accepts Israeli, U.S. security demand

Ross and Arafat August 11, 1997
Web posted at: 11:00 p.m. EDT (0300 GMT)

Latest developments:

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- The deep freeze on Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking may be thawing. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat on Monday reluctantly accepted Israeli and U.S. demands that he renew efforts to rein in Islamic militants.

"We have a start at this point," U.S. envoy Dennis Ross told reporters as he shuttled between meetings Monday at the governor's mansion in the Palestinian-controlled West Bank city of Ramallah.

Ross is on the second day of a visit he hopes will jump-start faltering peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

The American diplomat met with Arafat in one part of the governor's mansion, while in another part of the building, Shin Bet security agency chief Ami Ayalon and other Israelis met with Palestinian intelligence chief Amin al-Hindi, West Bank security chief Jibril Rajoub and his Gaza counterpart, Mohammed Dahlan.

Israel Radio said the U.S. team in the three-way talks included CIA officials.

A Palestinian official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the Palestinians agreed to resume regular security meetings and that Israel accepted their condition that the Americans take part in them.

The details of the security cooperation were unclear, and the parties were expected to continue meetings Tuesday to work them out. Ross was also to meet Tuesday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Ross met separately with Arafat and Netanyahu on Sunday. On Sunday night, U.S., Israeli and Palestinian officials met to exchange information on the deadly July 30 double suicide bombing in Jerusalem that killed 16 people.

Bombing death toll rises

Fifteen people, including the two bombers, died in the attack. The toll rose to 16 Monday when a 49-year-old Israeli man died of his injuries.

Israel and the United States have insisted upon making security the top issue in talks since the attack.

"Security is something that serves Israeli interests and Palestinian interests. You have a common threat and you have a common enemy and it's important to deal with that as partners," Ross said.

U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has said she is prepared to make her first trip to the region if progress on security is made.

Envoy: 'Looking for results'

"We're not looking for meetings as an end in themselves. We're looking for results," Ross told reporters after talks earlier in the day with Israeli Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai.

Such results might include Palestinians jailing suspected terrorists and keeping them in jail, and resumption of joint Israeli-Palestinian police patrols, said State Department spokesman James Rubin.

But neither Israelis nor Palestinians sounded confident that progress toward salvaging peace efforts would come swiftly.

One issue mirrors just how much the two sides are talking, and working, at cross purposes: The twin mystery of the identities and origins of the two suicide bombers killed in the Jerusalem market attack.

"I had been informed from Israeli high officers their analysis is they are coming from abroad," Arafat said of the bombers.

Netanyahu holds an opposing view: "The evidence we have right now I think is not yet conclusive, but points directly to the assistance of organizations, terrorist organizations, based in the Palestinian territories."

Glimmer of hope

U.S. officials say they see a glimmer of hope that the peace process will get back on track. They say they were encouraged by the Sunday meeting between Arafat and his top security chiefs and senior Israeli officials.

But after meeting Mordechai on Monday, Ross cautioned the problem was complex.

"There isn't a peace process if you don't overcome the differences. Security is one part of it, political is the other. In the current circumstances, the first thing that must be done is to reestablish a basis for security," Ross said.

Many Palestinians disagree that security is the top priority, and say the United States is taking Israel's side in this latest round of diplomacy talks.

"Dennis Ross has to be very careful if he wants to adopt the Israel priorities and the Israel discourse, and really fall prey to this deliberate campaign of fabrications of false accusations that Israel has started, and they continue to use," said Palestinian cabinet member Hanan Ashrawi.

"I think the Americans should have their own perspective and the integrity of their own position," she said.

The Islamic militant group Hamas warned Arafat against heeding Israel's demands.

"It would be dangerous, not just for him ... it would lead to Palestinians fighting Palestinians," Hamas spokesman Ibrahim Ghoshe said from Amman, Jordan.

Palestinian protests

Ramallah protest

Meanwhile, under the weight of Israel's travel ban on Gaza and the West Bank, Palestinian frustrations against both Israel and the United States are building.

In Gaza City, thousands of Palestinian protesters marched down the main street, demanding Israel free their imprisoned sons and end the closure imposed on Palestinians after the suicide bombing.

Trouble also flared briefly just outside Ramallah, when about 50 youths burned tires and tried to throw stones at Israeli soldiers.

"America is the head of the snake," one protester chanted.

"We are asking America to be an even-handed mediator, because (now) they are supporting Israel," said another demonstrator.

The demonstrations included backers of both Arafat and the Islamic opposition. Some Palestinian protesters sought to march on an Israeli checkpoint. After several attempts they were eventually curbed and quietly dispersed by Palestinian police.

But with stones at the ready and possibly guns not far behind, they are an ominous reminder of what could happen if the diplomatic efforts falter.

Correspondent Jerrold Kessel and Reuters contributed to this report.

 
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