Fears of wider Mideast conflict

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Fears of wider Mideast conflict MSNBC STAFF AND WIRE REPORTS JERUSALEM, Oct. 9  As darkness fell on the Middle East, marking the end of the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur and the deadline set by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak for an end to violence between Israelis and Palestinians, diplomats scrambled to avoid an outbreak of full-scale fighting in the region. U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and Russias foreign minister scheduled a flurry of meetings, while U.S. officials kept up the drumbeat for a peace summit later this week.

These threats wont bring the Palestinians to their knees.  MOHAMMED DAHLAN Palestinian security chief BUT THE NEWS on the ground wasnt hopeful. Israelis and Palestinians exchanged gunfire around Nablus overnight, and later in Jerusalem, Nazareth and Hebron there were scenes of stone throwing and deadly exchanges of live ammunition. NBCs Tom Aspell reported from Gaza that the prospects for peace looked grim. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat called meetings with his top security officials and members of the opposition Jihad to discuss a response to the Barak ultimatum, while Israel moved tanks and troops to protect Jewish settlements in Gaza.

The death toll has climbed past 85, most of the victims Palestinians, since violence erupted on Sept. 28 after right-wing Israeli politician Ariel Sharon visited a shrine held sacred by both Jews and Muslims. Ordinary Jews visit the Temple Mount, which is run by Muslim clerics. But Sharons visit was viewed as highly provocative because the shrines jurisdiction had become one of the main stumbling blocks to the Mideast peace negotiations, which Sharon opposes. October 9, 2000 NBCs Tom Aspell reports from Gaza City on the tense state of affairs in the Mideast Monday.

Among the latest casualties of the violence was an American-born rabbi, who was found shot to death near a West Bank highway on Sunday. Jewish leaders in the United States called on President Bill Clinton to hold Arafat responsible for the death of Hillel Lieberman. DIPLOMATIC OFFENSIVE On Saturday, Barak set a deadline that expired at sundown Monday for Arafat to halt the violence or risk the end of Israels participation in the peace process. Barak promised to unleash Israels security forces in response to any violence after that. Clashes in the Mideast More coverage

The ultimatum, which was angrily rejected by the Palestinians, has triggered a diplomatic offensive by international leaders worried that the spiraling violence would spread beyond the West Bank and Gaza. Already Israel has rushed reinforcements to its northern border after Lebanese guerrillas seized three Israeli soldiers, shattering the calm that has prevailed there since Israel withdrew from Lebanon in May. The kidnappings by Hezbollah, Israels longtime cross-border adversary, raised the specter of wider clashes in the Mideast. In Israel, parallels were being drawn to Yom Kippur of 1973, when Arab armies launched a surprise attack on Israel. On Sunday, Barak warned his regional neighbors that Israel would have a strong response if the violence continued. The Israeli leader also warned Syria  the powerbroker in Lebanon  to rein in Hezbollah.

Images from the recent violence. Barak was scheduled to meet Annan late Monday and with Russias Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov on Tuesday, raising speculation that there may be a delay before Israel follows through on its threats to crack down on the fighting. A U.N. spokesman said Annan felt it was imperative that he makes every possible effort to break the prevailing impasse between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Ivanov, who began his mediation efforts with a meeting in Damascus with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, said he wanted to put an end to the violence against Palestinians. The innocent civilians should not continue to be killed. We should prepare the appropriate climate to replace violence with dialogue, he said. We realize the difficulty of this mission but Russia, as a friend of the Arab world, will work to make this mission a success, Ivanov said. The Russian minister was scheduled to hold talks in Lebanon before heading to meetings with Barak and Arafat on Tuesday. SUMMIT POSSIBILITIES In Washington, the U.S. administration officials told NBC News that Clinton was working to arrange a summit meeting between Barak and Arafat, possibly this week in Egypt. The U.S. president may travel to the region if the two agree to a summit, officials said. NBCs Norah ODonnell reported that the White House was encouraged by the lessening of violence in the region, but remained unsure if the two sides would agree to the idea of a summit. In the meantime, Clinton has held several conversations with both Barak and Arafat and also discussed the escalating violence with Syrias al-Assad.

Arafat, who met Egyptian President Hosni Murbarak on Monday, did not say whether he would accept the U.S. proposal a meeting with Barak. We discussed the possibility of a summit, and we spoke about the dangerous situation which is going on in front of us, the continuation of using missiles, helicopters and ammunition against the Palestinian people and our martyrs, the Palestinian leader said. Barak planned another cabinet meeting as soon as the Yom Kippur holiday ended, and was reportedly consulting with the opposition about establishing an emergency government.

Despite the bleak outlook, Barak, suggested on Sunday that there was light at the end of the tunnel for Mideast peace. Speaking on NBCs Meet the Press, Barak said there is an agreement within our reach, put on the table through the ideas of President Clinton at Camp David, and its up to Arafat to make up his mind and to choose, whether he wants to have an agreement. We can have it. It might take a few weeks to formalize a kind of framework agreement and maybe a few months, at most, to detail it to the last letter. Palestinian officials, angered by Baraks ultimatum and comments by national security adviser Uzi Dayan, have rejected Israeli threats. Dayan had said Israel could attack the headquarters of those responsible for the situation. Palestinian security chief Mohammed Dahlan said the remarks were insulting. After years of involvement in negotiations, he said his optimism for peace had waned.

Mr. Uzi Dayan should know very well that we will not bow to these threats. If his rockets failed to bring the Palestinians to their knees, then these threats wont bring the Palestinians to their knees, either, he said.


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), October 09, 2000

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