Albright to meet Barak, Arafat in search for end to bloodshed
publiziert: Mittwoch, 4. Okt 2000 / 13:50 Uhr

Paris - Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat said Wednesday he wanted guarantees of protection for his people and an inquiry into the causes of violence that has swept the West Bank and Gaza before he would agree to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak.

1 Meldung im Zusammenhang
Arafat told reporters after a one-hour meeting with French President Jacques Chirac that a trilateral meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Barak, that had been announced in Paris, was not a sure thing. "The meeting (with Barak) will depend on the one I will have with Albright," said Arafat, adding that a trilateral meeting was not yet on the agenda.

Asked what his conditions were, he said, "Protection and an international inquiry commission."

A senior Palestinian official has said an international inquiry into Israel's actions would be a condition of reviving the peace talks. But Barak's office has said he "totally rejected the call for an international investigation." Justice Minister Yossi Beilin told Israel radio Wednesday that Israel did not agree "to put our fate in the hands of the world."

"I think that, if there are questions and if there are queries, we can answer them ourselves. We don't need a committee biased against Israel to investigate things," Beilin said.

Albright, followed by Barak, arrived at the U.S. ambassador's residence in Paris on Wednesday to start the talks aimed at stopping six days of violence, that have left at least 58 people dead in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank, and salvage the already-stalled Middle East peace process. She met Arafat separately after her talks with Barak. Chirac was to meet Barak separately at about the same time.

Fighting broke out last week after an Israeli hardline leader, Ariel Sharon, visited one of Jerusalem's most hotly contested holy sites, which is revered by both Jews and Muslims. State Department spokesman Philip Reeker, speaking in Washington, said CIA director George Tenet planned to join Albright in Paris. Reeker said Tenet will take part in discussions on security issues.

Arafat thanked France for "the great efforts they are making to stop the massacre, the serious massacre, which is being perpetrated against the Palestinian people and to save the peace process." The Palestinian leader said he planned to meet again later Wednesday with Chirac. "I stressed to the President the importance of the French role to us, a role exercised with the United States and Egypt with the aim of stopping the virulent attacks against our people," he said.

France, which holds the European Union's six-month rotating presidency, has long sought a major role in the volatile region, where it once was a great colonial power. As a day of frenetic diplomacy kicked off in Paris, there were no signs of the violence abating.

Two more Palestinians were fatally shot before dawn Wednesday near the West Bank town of Ramallah, according to Nasser Atiya, a hospital nurse in Ramallah. Three Israeli military outposts in the Gaza Strip came under attack overnight, and stonethrowing clashes were reported in the West Bank on Wednesday morning. And in northern Israel, a large forest fire raged Wednesday, one of more than 100 blazes that police believe have been set by Arab arsonists. Most have been extinguished. Both sides have traded bitter accusations of blame for the worst violence to hit the region in four years, with Palestinians saying Sharon's visit was responsible and Israelis blaming an orchestrated Palestinian campaign to win concessions in peace talks.

Europe has pointed the finger of blame at Sharon, who visited a shrine, known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as Al Haram As-Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary. The dispute over who will control the site is the main obstacle to a peace agreement.

Chirac has blamed the violence on an "irresponsible provocation" _ a clear reference to Sharon's visit to the holy site. Sharon, notorious among Palestinians for launching the bloody war against Arafat's forces in Lebanon in 1982, said he bore no responsibility.

After the Paris talks, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, a key player in the Middle East peace process, is planning a leadership summit on Thursday. Barak and Arafat have both agreed to come, Mubarak said Tuesday.

Officials said the Paris talks would not just be a bid to stem the tide of violence. "The meeting ... is a step in the direction of the renewal of the negotiations and not just the end of violence here," Israeli Acting Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami told Israel radio.

A diplomatic drive, led by U.S. President Bill Clinton, to forge an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement had lost momentum even before the recent violence, stalling after a July summit in Camp David.

(klei/AP)

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