The United States said Tuesday it was satisfied that Israel and the Palestinians were serious about the peace process as special US envoy Dennis Ross continued his efforts to push an agreement forward and calm an outburst of deadly violence.
Ross said that talks with both Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian President Yasser Arafat had left him convinced both sides were committed to peace and still there was a historic opportunity to end the conflict.
"Clearly we have an environment in the last couple of days that made the situation much more difficult, but there was also a very determined effort to calm that environment," Ross said in an interview with CNN in Jerusalem.
"We are dealing with a conflict that has been one of the most intractable over the last hundred years and yet now there is an opportunity, and both leaders see it, to end this conflict."
"There is an opportunity and it shouldn't be lost," he said.
Ross arrived in the region Monday amid the worst outbreak of violence in years in the Palestinian territories where at least 36 people had been wounded in fighting between Palestinian protesters and Israeli soldiers.
He met with Arafat and Barak as sporadic clashes flared across the West Bank for the fifth straight day and said both had responded to his calls for a de-escalation of tension.
"Obviously you have an environment when you have that kind of violence which is the last thing that one needs if you're going to be able to negotiate the hardest issues that there are right now," Ross said, referring to talks to resolve security issues and questions over the future status of Jerusalem and a Palestinian entity.
"I will say that the two sides worked very hard today to calm the situation, they worked together and in fact they did succeed, I think, in calming the situation at this point."
At the State Department, spokesman Richard Boucher gave an equally upbeat assessment ahead of a planned visit here next week by Barak during which he will meet with President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.
"I want to make clear it is our view that negotiations are serious and that both sides are making a real effort to reach agreement," Boucher told reporters -- WASHINGTON (AFP).
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