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World - Middle East

Bethlehem unrest raises concern at 'delicate moment' in Mideast talks

October 27, 1999
Web posted at: 8:26 p.m. EDT (0026 GMT)


In this story:

Mourners mock peace process

Ross: 'Never set your hopes too low'

RELATED STORIES, SITES icon



From staff and wire reports

BETHLEHEM, West Bank (CNN) -- As a U.S. envoy met Israeli and Palestinian leaders Wednesday to lay groundwork for talks with U.S. President Bill Clinton next week, angry mourners clashed with police in Bethlehem for a third day of violence.

At least 12 Palestinians were hurt when Israeli soldiers fired rubber-coated bullets at a crowd returning from the funeral of Musa Abu Ihaliel, who was killed by Israeli troops during clashes on Monday.

Tear gas hung over the entrance to the town as soldiers and demonstrators fought near the tomb of the biblical matriarch Rachel.

Chanting "Death to America and Israel," hundreds of mourners accompanied the body of Abu Ihaliel from his house to a mosque in the village of Beit Sahour next to Bethlehem.

Palestinian police fired shots into the air in honor of Abu Ihaliel, whom the crowd called a martyr.

The Israeli army said Abu Ihaliel pulled a knife on soldiers, but Palestinian eyewitnesses claim the Israeli soldier accidentally shot the man and that Israeli authorities fabricated the knife.

On Tuesday, at least 17 Palestinians were wounded in similar demonstrations following the death of Abu Ihaliel.

Mourners mock peace process

"Where is the peace of the brave?" the crowd chanted Wednesday, mocking the Palestinian-Israeli peace process.

"Long live armed struggle!" they said.

One Bethlehem youth called the peace process a charade -- nothing more than talk.

However, U.S. envoy Dennis Ross described the negotiations as reaching a critical stage.

"We are certainly at a very delicate moment where there is also a great deal of potential," Ross said after talks with Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy in Jerusalem.

Ross also said he saw potential to build on "serious" Israeli and Syrian intentions to work on resuming peace talks suspended more than three years ago.

Ross was speaking before meetings among Clinton, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat in Norway on November 1 and 2, which are expected to boost efforts to reach a final peace deal.

Barak and Arafat signed an agreement last month to revive implementation of the Wye River land-for-peace accord and launch talks on a final Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement.

They set February as the date to reach a preliminary agreement on thorny issues such as borders, the status of Jerusalem, refugees and Jewish settlements. They aim for a full accord in September.

Ross: 'Never set your hopes too low'

Asked whether he thought a preliminary agreement could be reached by February, Ross said: "I think it's always important when you're approaching Middle East peace never to set your hopes too low."

He later told reporters at the opening of the Seeds of Peace movement headquarters in Jerusalem: "I think the focus of the president with the two of them will be on how do you move from where you are to a February framework."

Terje Roed-Larsen, special U.N. envoy on the peace process, told reporters: "Without doubt the two most difficult questions will be the issue of refugees and the issue of Jerusalem. It's possible to reach an agreement on these issues, but any agreement will be painful for both parties."

Jerusalem Bureau Chief Walter Rodgers and Reuters contributed to this report.



RELATED STORIES:
Palestinian killed by Israeli soldier near Rachel's tomb
October 25, 1999
Israel opens safe passage between West Bank and Gaza
October 25, 1999
Palestinian shot dead after driving into Israeli soldiers
August 10, 1999

RELATED SITES:
Israel's Institutions of Government
PASSIA: Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs
Palestinian National Authority
The Middle East Network Information Center
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