Cook's security guards arrested in Jerusalem

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The Independent Online

Robin Cook's trip to the Middle East suddenly turned sour yesterday when two security men provided by his Palestinian hosts were arrested by Israeli police in Jerusalem.

Robin Cook's trip to the Middle East suddenly turned sour yesterday when two security men provided by his Palestinian hosts were arrested by Israeli police in Jerusalem.

The incident occurred as the Foreign Secretary was about to fly home, after a delicate three-day peace-making trip in which he painstakingly sought to avoid the acrimony that plagued his last trip 18 months ago.

He had pronounced his trip a "success" before two guards from the Palestinian Liberation Organisation were detained and accused of attacking an Israeli guard.

It began after Mr Cook arrived at the American Colony Hotel, in the divided city's Arab quarter, for talks with Yasser Arafat's representative in Jerusalem, Faisel al Husseini.

Mr Cook's entourage was accompanied by an officer from Shin Bet, Israel's internal security force, who had joined the group when it re-entered Israel after an overnight visit to the Gaza Strip.

The Palestinians barred the Shin Bet officer from attending Mr Cook's lunch meeting at the hotel. An Israeli police spokesman said the two men physically attacked the security guard. After being barred, the Shin Bet officer called in the police, who demanded that the two men come out of the hotel and give themselves up.

Asked before the arrests about problems between the security forces, Mr Cook declined to comment, describing the issue as "sensitive". But afterwards Mr Husseini was clearly fuming: "They were trying to humiliate not only us but also the British delegation," he said.

The incident endedan otherwise uncontroversial mission by Mr Cook.

As he ended his visit Mr Cook said that he had achieved his trip's objectives. These included arguing the merits of pressing on anew towards a 'balanced' and 'durable' agreement, after the process was halted during the government of Benjamin Netanyahu.

"We understand that this is a window of opportunity that has to be seized." he said, "Every time I have returned here, there are more settlements (in the occupied territories) and more fixed points in the landscape. With every passing year it is more difficult to achieve a just settlement, acceptable to both sides," he said.

This is a message aimed at the Palestinians, and particularly Yasser Arafat. A weary-looking and ageing Mr Arafat met Mr Cook on Monday night in Gaza. The mood was friendly enough; the Foreign Secretary publicly called the Palestinian leader "Yasser", and walked arm-in-arm.

But there was a bottom line to the Foreign Secretary's message, which could be translated as - "Take your chance now, while you, Mr Arafat, are still around and while Israel has a leader apparently willing to do business. Better a bad deal than none at all."

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