Palestinian, Israeli Officials Discuss Resumption of Peace Talks
Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh and the government coordinator for the territories, Maj.-Gen. Ya'acov Orr, met with Palestinian Authority Minister Jamil Tarifi and Tayeb Abdel-Rahim, Secretary General of Palestinian Presidency on Thursday night at the Beit Hanoun (Erez) crossing, apparently to discuss messages received by Israel that Arafat is interested in restarting a dialogue, according to the Jerusalem Post on Friday.
The meeting, described by Israeli officials as "good," lasted for over an hour, and the sides said they discussed a formula to reduce the violence.
Sneh then briefed Prime Minister Ehud Barak on the meeting. An Israeli security official said that Sneh had been sent at Barak's request to investigate whether channels of dialogue remained open, said the paper.
Meanwhile, the security cabinet met for the second consecutive evening last night to discuss how to respond to Wednesday's bus bombing in Hadera that killed at least two and wounded scores of others, in the first attack of its kind since the outbreak of the Intifada.
The meeting came amid calls inside the cabinet for the IDF to change its tactics, said the Israeli English daily.
“The army has relied on helicopter raids that are increasingly being interpreted abroad as an excessive use of force, and which have been criticized in Israel as ineffective, because the rocket attacks have been aimed at empty Palestinian government offices instead of personnel involved in the planning and carrying out of the attacks,” the report said.
Palestinians have prohibited firing at Israeli from residential areas so as not to provoke Israeli counter attacks, which have inflicted considerable damage on Palestinian civilian properties.
Skepticism met reports in Jerusalem that Arafat was once more ready to negotiate.
Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami said Thursday that Arafat had signaled US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright that he was interested in reviving the deadlocked peace talks and putting an end to the violence.
Arafat was also reported to relay the same message to Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail Cem when the two met Wednesday night in Cairo. Cem, who enjoys good relations with both Israel and the Palestinians, offered his services while in Jerusalem on Wednesday in trying to find a formula that could put an end to the violence.
However, a Palestinian spokesman said the PA has no plans to resume negotiations with Israel in the near future.
"There can be no return soon to the negotiations before Israel implements the Sharm e-Sheikh understandings," Arafat's adviser, Nabil Abu Rudainah, told agencies.
However, Palestinian international cooperation minister Nabil Shaath said Thursday the Palestinians were ready to resume negotiations with Israel if it ends a "siege" of Palestinian areas.
"We are ready to resume the peace process and the negotiations but we want to see a total end to the siege," Shaath told reporters in Cairo.
A resumption of peace talks "requires a halt to the Israeli aggression" and the implementation of agreements made at the Sharm el-Sheikh summit which required Israel to withdraw its troops from Palestinian towns, Shaath said.
For his part, Israeli Regional Cooperation Minister Shimon Peres said in Brussels the same day that the government would be ready to resume peace talks with the Palestinians after a substantial reduction in terror. Asked about Arafat's reported willingness to resume talks, Peres told reporters: "We can go back to negotiations when terror will be reduced considerably." "Israel expects, not 100 percent results [from the Palestinian Authority], but to see 100% efforts to bring an end to the terror," Peres told reporters after talks with the European Union's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana.
On Friday, Barak was reported to be sending his top security advisor, Danny Yatom, to Egypt on Sunday for talks with President Hosni Mubarak to discuss their relations and the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, his office said, quoted by AFP.
"On Sunday, Danny Yatom will travel to Cairo to confer with President Mubarak, as part of the efforts to stop the terror and violence and furthering Egyptian-Israeli dialogue," his office said in a statement.
On Tuesday, Mubarak recalled Egypt's ambassador to Israel as a protest against the Jewish state's "excessive use of force" against the Palestinians in the eight-week uprising that has cost more than 270 lives, mostly Palestinians – (Several Sources)
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