Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak has ordered his representatives to leave peace talks with the Palestinians in Stockholm, Sweden, because of the continued violence in the West Bank and Gaza, reported CNN.com Monday.
The decision comes 24 hours after Barak postponed a trip to Washington to discuss the peace process and Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon with US President Bill Clinton, said the report.
The Israeli prime minister's office said it had instructed Public Security Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami "to shorten the present round of talks with the Palestinians because of the situation on the West Bank and (in Gaza) and because of the need to be updated in advance of further talks that the Israeli prime minister is holding with world leaders."
However, according to AFP, US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright on Sunday said that violence wracking the West Bank and Gaza Strip for a week had not stymied progress in so-called "final status" talks on the Palestinian territories.
"The violence certainly hurts the overall environment but we are making progress on the Palestinian track," she told the ABC television network, adding "there are still gaps but there is work going on."
"This violence is very unfortunate," she stressed. "We obviously are concerned and are following it very closely."
Asked about Palestinian President Yasser Arafat's possible declaration of a Palestinian state in September, she replied: "We are working to try to get the final status issues resolved, that being one of them, by the middle of September."
Barak has talked recently with the presidents of France and Egypt, King Abdullah of Jordan and United States national security adviser Sandy Berger, his office said.
Ben-Ami and attorney Gilead Sher were to complete Sunday's talks and return to Israel on Monday morning, Barak's office said.
White House officials told CNN they were aware of Barak's decision to pull out of the Stockholm talks, but national security spokesman P.J. Crowley had no comment other than to say the US "will defer to the Israeli government to explain whatever actions they have taken."
Barak's move comes against the backdrop of more than a week of demonstrations by Palestinians that have left four Palestinians dead and at least 100 injured, as well as renewed skirmishes between Syrian-backed radical Palestinian guerrillas and Israel and its militia ally, the South Lebanon Army.
Sunday saw a reduction in the level of conflict on the West Bank and in Gaza. Palestinians buried Issa Abed, the latest victim of the violence -- he was shot in the head during a clash on Friday with Israeli troops. A 2-year-old Israeli girl was being treated in a hospital after she was critically burned when a firebomb was thrown at the car in which she was traveling near the West Bank town of Jericho.
Palestinian police were out in force to prevent protesters coming face to face with Israeli troops at checkpoints. In an unusual move, the Israeli Army has banned civilians from traveling into areas under Palestinian control.
Israelis demand Arafat act to end protests
Earlier, the Israeli Cabinet had demanded that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat put an end to the violence, hinting that the protesters were threatening the peace process.
Israeli Cabinet Minister Chaim Ramon was quoting by the CNN report as saying "If President Arafat cannot control them or, worse, allows them to do so, all the negotiations between us and Chairman Arafat are under a big, big question."
Palestinians argue that the last eight days of demonstrations result from frustration with the apparent lack of progress in negotiations, in particular the continued refusal of Israel to release prisoners the Palestinians regard as political detainees.
Saeb Erakat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, said "We really urge the Israeli side to expedite the measures calling for the release of prisoners, in order to remove the causes that led to the situation in the streets." – (Several sources)
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