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World - Middle East

Israelis, Palestinians come together for rescue effort

Cooperation at disaster site sign of hope for peace drive

July 8, 1999
Web posted at: 6:58 p.m. EDT (2258 GMT)

From Correspondent Jerrold Kessel

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- In a demonstration of how much the lives of Israelis and Palestinians are intertwined, rescue workers from both sides cooperated Thursday in the search for survivors when a building collapsed in the Palestinian town of Ramallah.

The joint effort at the collapsed building site, which killed three people and injured seven, seemed to symbolize the efforts by both sides to salvage what remains of a tattered peace accord between Israelis and Palestinians.

"We always cooperate with the Israeli government, but you know the ex-government didn't want to cooperate with anything," said one Palestinian rescue worker. "We hope with Mr. Barak, we can cooperate with everything."

While Israel's new Prime Minister Ehud Barak has launched a peace drive that has impressed Palestinians, some insist it is too early to call him a peacemaker.

"Slogan and talk has always been there. That's why we don't trust it," said Mahdi Abu Mahdi of the Passia Research Center. "We want to test it."

Palestinians want Barak to deal right away with the issue of Jewish settlements in the West Bank. But Israeli officials won't talk about a report that Barak promised right-wing members of his coalition that he won't dismantle many of the 40 hilltop outposts which Israeli settlers hurriedly erected in the last months of the previous government.

For his part, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat took the opportunity, while inaugurating a new cellular phone network for the Palestinian Authority, to telegraph his intentions -- in a way which won't please many Israelis.

"Jerusalem will be the capital of Palestine," Arafat said. "Anyone who doesn't like it can drink from the Sea of Gaza."

Barak's call for peace has prompted diplomatic movement on several fronts, but Israeli officials caution that there will be no instant peace.

"It's clear it will be a very tough process," said Natan Sharansky, Barak's interior minister. "We will demand, insist, that our partners contribute to security in the region and fulfill all their obligations."

Barak is about to begin a whirlwind series of meetings with Israeli's Arab peace partners, leading to a Washington summit with U.S. President Bill Clinton.

Israel sees the meetings mainly as a way to restore trust, but Barak may discover that Arab leaders and the United States may be thinking that it is time for action, not just introductions.

Barak ready to assume office
July 5, 1999
Barak tells Arafat he'll follow in Rabin's footsteps
July 2, 1999
Israeli's Barak forges coalition to restart peace process
June 30, 1999

Israel's Institutions of Government
PASSIA: Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs
Palestinian National Authority
The Middle East Network Information Center
Office of the Israeli Prime Minister
Knesset - The Israeli Parliament
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