Middle East: Peace talks continue in Egypt

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The Independent Online

An initial agreement to halt the violence that has rocked the West Bank and Gaza Strip for the past week was reached in Paris last night before the talks between the Israeli Prime Minister and Palestinian President moved to Egypt today.

An initial agreement to halt the violence that has rocked the West Bank and Gaza Strip for the past week was reached in Paris last night before the talks between the Israeli Prime Minister and Palestinian President moved to Egypt today.

Negotiations on security issues are to be held today at the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el Sheikh, where President Hosni Mubarak will host Ehud Barak, Yasser Arafat, and the US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright. The Egyptians hope that the summit can move on from the immediate issue of the violence, which has left 66 people dead, to an attempt to breathe new life into the moribund peace process.

Amr Moussa, the Egyptian Foreign Minister, said Cairo would be conveying "certain ideas," and President Mubarak suggested the two sides follow the example of his country and Israel at the 1978 Camp David summit and seal a framework agreement before negotiating details of a final settlement.

Mr Arafat refused a similar deal in July, saying it would be unacceptable to his people. It is not clear why he would agree to that formula now, diplomats said, particularly with the Israelis in no mood to make concessions.

At the end of a long day of recriminations at the Paris talks mediated by Mrs Albright, Mr Barak and Mr Arafat agreed on an Israeli withdrawal to the positions they held before the violence started. In return, the Palestinians would stay away from two flashpoints on the West Bank and Gaza Strip which have seen the worst clashes.

However, according to Yasser Abed Rabbo, a Palestinian official, the leaders meeting at the US ambassador's residence did not agree on the international inquiry into the killings that Mr Arafat has demanded. The deal they did reach came shortly after Mr Arafat stormed out of a three-way session. He had earlier threatened not to meet Mr Barak at all unless Israel agreed to the outside inquiry.

Mr Barak rejected Mr Arafat's demand after a meeting with Ms Albright, but indicated he could accept the proposal of a joint Israeli-Palestinian investigation, in which the Americans would act as mediators.

Even agreement on a formula of this kind may not suffice to ensure a return to peace, although the disorder appeared to be gradually subsiding.

Each side blames the other for the mayhem. For the Palestinians, the extension of violence was caused by the excess force of the Israelis, who used tanks and helicopter gunships to quell the protests.

The Israelis argue that a simple order from Mr Arafat to his forces to cease shooting would have sufficed.

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