Barak Cancels Meeting with Clinton, amidst Escalating Violence
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak cancelled a trip to the United States on Sunday and a meeting with President Bill Clinton following bloody clashes with the Palestinians and increased violence in Lebanon, Reported Reuters Saturday.
"Prime Minister and Defense Minister Ehud Barak decided this evening to postpone his trip to the United States in the light of events in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) and in Lebanon," Barak's office said in a statement late on Saturday.
He had been scheduled to leave at midnight on Sunday for the United States.
Ten days of the bloodiest clashes in two years to sweep the West Bank and Gaza that included gunfights between Israeli and Palestinian security forces, led Barak to cancel his trip and to call an urgent meeting of his security cabinet on Saturday.
More than 100 Palestinians were wounded, including two Reuters cameramen, in clashes on Saturday, said the agency.
Barak's security cabinet met for nearly three hours late on Saturday, but did not arrive at any decisions, diplomatic sources were quoted as saying.
They added that Barak told his cabinet he had delivered a "very strong message" to the Palestinian leadership demanding they act immediately to stop the clashes and its security forces from firing live ammunition at Israeli soldiers.
The cabinet repeated its position not to hand over to the Palestinians three villages near Jerusalem until the situation in the West Bank and Gaza calmed down, the sources said.
Last week, on the same day that clashes broke out in the West Bank and Gaza, the parliament voted to transfer to Palestinian rule three villages near Jerusalem, including Abu Dis.
HAMMERING OUT PEACE FRAMEWORK
Violence erupted in the West Bank and Gaza as Israelis and Palestinians try to hammer out a framework for a final peace deal by September 13, tackling the thorniest issues including Jewish settlements, borders and the status of Jerusalem.
US National Security Adviser Sandy Berger met Palestinian President Yasser Arafat in Ramallah on Saturday and suggested to Arafat that he meet Barak in Washington next month to try to advance the peace process.
Jordan's King Abdullah, meanwhile, will pay a short visit to Damascus on Sunday for talks with President Hafez al-Assad on Syrian-Israeli peace talks that stalled in January.
Fighting between Israel and Hizbollah guerrillas has also increased as Israel prepares to withdraw its troops by July 7 from the south Lebanon zone it has occupied for 22 years.
Barak has vowed to withdraw his troops from the zone with or without an agreement with Lebanon or Syria, the country's main power broker. Syria and Iran back the Hizbollah guerrillas that have been fighting to oust Israel from south Lebanon.
Barak's security cabinet repeated on Saturday its intention to redeploy Israeli troops on the UN-recognized border by July 7 despite the increasing violence in south Lebanon.
In Paris, President Jacques Chirac's office said Barak had phoned the president and that they had spent about an hour discussing the implications of Israel's planned withdrawal from south Lebanon and the peace process with the Palestinians.
FIGHTING FOLLOWS AIR ATTACK
Artillery and mortars fired on Israeli outposts in south Lebanon left some residents in Israel's northern towns without electricity on Saturday, an army spokeswoman said. Shells apparently damaged an Israeli power source in the north.
The fighting came after Israeli air force planes attacked a base near the Lebanon-Syria border of the militant Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, killing three guerrillas.
"The importance of this mission is the message it sends to Syria and Iran," a military official said.
The official said Hizbollah would not attack northern Israel before the troop withdrawal, but would activate militant Palestinian refugees who live in Lebanon.
"The operational cooperation between the Iranians and the Palestinian organizations will probably cause an escalation in the future," the official said.
The Israeli army said in a statement that its militia allies, the South Lebanon Army (SLA), along with the Israeli air force, navy and artillery units, defeated an attempt by Hizbollah to take over one of its outposts on Saturday.
No Israeli soldiers or SLA militiamen were wounded in the takeover attempt, the army said.
NRP TO DECIDE TODAY: STAY OR GO?
Barak needs to wait for more news as the National Religious Party is expected to decide today whether or not to quit the government and the coalition once and for all, according to Haaretz.
The Israeli daily said The decision will not be implemented immediately, but rather the party will wait until after the transfer of Abu Dis, Azzariye and Suwahara to the Palestinian Authority.
Housing and Construction Minister Yitzhak Levy said on Friday that he does not take back his resignation, but is rather deferring it until after the transfer of the disputed villages is completed. He added that he would not be resuming all of his duties as a minister or participating in official government meetings.
The daily said Barak had met with Levy on Thursday night in an attempt to talk Levy out of resigning, but to no avail. Barak told Levy of his intention to postpone the hand-over of the Jerusalem neighborhoods to the PA until the violent eruptions seen over the last week in the territories die out. The prime minister also denied recent publications and reports about supposed compromises Israel has made to the Palestinians with regards to Jerusalem – (Several Sources)
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