Kofi Annan seeks peace as another schoolboy is shot

Tensions rise to boiling point as troops use live ammunition against stone-throwing Palestinians while UN chief holds urgent talks
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The Independent Online

Tensions in Israel rose again as a nine-year-old Palestinian boy, named Sami Abu-Jazar, was declared brain dead in Gaza. He had been shot in the head with live ammunition by Israeli soldiers in the town of Rafah, near the Egyptian border.

Tensions in Israel rose again as a nine-year-old Palestinian boy, named Sami Abu-Jazar, was declared brain dead in Gaza. He had been shot in the head with live ammunition by Israeli soldiers in the town of Rafah, near the Egyptian border.

Doctors at Shifa hospital in Gaza City said his skull had been penetrated by a bullet when troops opened fire on dozens of boys pelting them with stones. His injury follows the killing of two other boys by Israeli soldiers in the Gaza Strip since violence erupted 12 days ago, and it coincides with a peace mission to the region by the United Nations Secretary-General, Kofi Annan.

Muhammad al-Durra, aged 12, was shot dead on September 30 while cowering with his father behind a block of concrete during a heavy exchange between Israeli troops and Palestinians, some armed, who were storming the Jewish settlement of Netzarim. The incident, filmed by a cameraman for French television, shocked the world.

Another boy, Muhammad A'asi, aged 13, was shot in the chest a couple of days later at the same place. Unlike the first boy, who was on his way home from accompanying his father to buy a new car, A'asi was throwing stones at the Israelis.

Mr Annan said he was "optimistic" at the prospects of stemming the bloodshed that threatens to destroy the last shreds of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. He was speaking after separate meetings in Gaza and Jerusalem with the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, and the Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Barak.

It was not clear whether he was whistling in the dark or had achieved some progress towards ending the clashes that have killed more than 90, mostly Palestinians, and wounded hundreds over the 12 days of mayhem. All he would say was that he was engaged in a period of "delicate and acute diplomacy."

Other players in this field include Javier Solana, representing the European Union, and the Russian Foreign Minister, Igor Ivanov. They will be joined today by the British Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook.

A cautious Mr Barak said, after his meeting with Mr Annan, that it was too early to tell if the violence was ending. He said: "If this is the start of a change, we will act accordingly." In a slight softening of the Israeli position, Mr Barak said he would agree to a joint Israeli-Palestinian investigation, under American chairmanship and with Norway holding the ring.

This is unlikely to satisfy the Palestinians, who no longer trust the Americans to be impartial and want a broader international probe. None the less, US President Bill Clinton is persevering with parallel efforts to convene a Middle East summit, despite a sharp rebuff from Egypt, the putative host.

Earlier yesterday, Mr Barak smoothed the diplomatic path by extending the 48-hour deadline for Mr Arafat to end the violence. The Prime Minister said: "We don't want to find ourselves in a few more weeks or months bogged down in a difficult conflict, knowing that we might have been able to prevent it."

His acting Foreign Minister, Shlomo Ben-Ami, made it clear, however, that they were talking about "several days" only. He said: "We want peace with the Palestinians, regional stability and a reasonable deal for everybody. We are not deaf to ideas, proposals and initiatives. But we ask Arafat to control his territory." To a suggestion that Mr Arafat could no longer control his own people, Mr Ben-Ami replied: "If he is incapable of controlling violence, what kind of partner is he? What kind of an agreement would we sign with him?"

A senior Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erakat, retorted that it was up to Israel to stop the bloodshed. He said: "We want to stop the Israeli army from continuing shooting Palestinians. We want to stop settler terrorism against Palestinians, and we also want to see the Israeli government stop killing its own Arab citizens."

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