Middle East Peace Diplomacy Quickens as Palestinian Death Toll Mounts

Published November 26th, 2000 - 02:00 GMT

Diplomatic steps gathered pace Sunday to end the bloodletting in the Palestinian territories, but President Yasser Arafat lowered hopes for peace that had been raised by his visit to Moscow. 

Arafat arrived in Cairo Saturday for talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who is also hosting weekend visits by Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, Jordan's King Abdullah and top Israeli envoy Danny Yatom. 

"Arafat will brief Mubarak on the results of his meeting (Friday) with Russian President Vladimir Putin," Mubarak's political advisor Ossama al-Baz told reporters. 

Russia prepared to host Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben Ami in Moscow on Monday for talks on the two-month crisis, just days after Putin received Arafat in a meeting on Friday hailed as a breakthrough by the Russian media. 

The Palestinian leader, visiting Jordan earlier on Saturday, said: "It is not a Russian (peace) initiative but it is an attempt to calm the situation." 

Putin brokered a telephone conversation between Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, the first such contact in three weeks. 

The two agreed to renew low-level security cooperation, and the Kremlin said they pledged to study the details of a new Russian initiative to end the violence, sparked by a visit to a disputed Jerusalem holy site by a right-wing Israeli leader on September 29. 

Upbeat Kremlin officials declined to reveal the exact details of the telephone diplomacy, but Barak's office said immediately afterwards that Arafat had declared himself ready to work for peace. 

During his visit to Jordan, where he also discussed the violence in the occupied territories with King Abdullah II, Arafat said that the priority was to stop the bloodletting in the absence of a peace initiative. 

A truce pledged at the summit in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh in October has yet to take hold, and an Israeli government source said it was premature for a new meeting between Arafat and former Israeli prime minister Shimon Peres. 

Peres and Arafat earlier this month arranged another still-born truce based on Sharm el-Sheikh. 

Meanwhile, Mubarak met earlier Saturday with Hariri, who said a Lebanese army deployment along the volatile border with Israel depended on progress in the peace process. 

Israel is asking for such a deployment to ensure security on the border following its withdrawal from Lebanon in May this year after 22 years of occupation. 

Abdullah, who met with Arafat and gave a pro-Palestinian speech earlier Saturday, was due to join Mubarak for talks in Cairo on Sunday. 

"We demand that the international community fulfil its duty and put an end to the suffering and injustice being inflicted on the Palestinian people," the king said in a televised speech to the nation at the opening of parliament. 

Jordan and Egypt are the only two Arab states to have concluded peace treaties with Israel.  

In the first major diplomatic fallout from the violence, Egypt last week recalled its veteran ambassador to Tel Aviv, while Jordan decided against replacing its recently retired envoy for the time being. 

The nature of what Israel leaders are calling a "mini-war" has shifted, with guerrilla-style gunbattle and bomb attacks replacing widespread popular street clashes that marked the start of the Intifada, or uprising. 

Meanwhile, Amnesty International has called on the United Nations for the deployment of human rights observers in the Palestinian territories. 

The Palestinian leadership has called for an international peacekeeping force to be deployed in the territories, but so far Israel has rejected the idea - (AFP) 

 

© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)

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