More violence feared after Egypt talks fail

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The Independent Online

International efforts to broker an end to a week of violence in the West Bank and Gaza - let alone relaunch the drive for a final settlement between Israel and Palestine - made scant headway yesterday, despite a fresh sound of summitry in Sharm el Sheikh.

International efforts to broker an end to a week of violence in the West Bank and Gaza - let alone relaunch the drive for a final settlement between Israel and Palestine - made scant headway yesterday, despite a fresh sound of summitry in Sharm el Sheikh.

Though the sun was shining brightly in the Egyptian resort, prospects of a real breakthrough in these talks hosted by President Hosni Mubarak were bleak from the outset. To all intents, they had been doomed by the quasi-failure of the previous day's meetings in Paris, which brought promises to end the fighting but little else.

Ehud Barak, the Israeli Prime Minister, did not even attend, deciding to attend a military memorial service north of Tel Aviv rather than have a second round of discussions with President Yasser Arafat and the American Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright.

"I am not convinced we have a partner for peace," Mr Barak said on his return from Paris, where he had rejected Mr Arafat's demand for an outside investigation into the clashes which left some 70 dead, and he blamed the Palestinian leader for not calling off the protesters.

Mrs Albright, dressed entirely in black, swept into the hotel where the talks were being held, saying the Paris meetings had made headway, and the two men were committed to "finding a way out of the tragic circumstances in which they are now caught up."

But President Mubarak's plan to get the Israeli and Palestinian leaders back to discussing their underlying differences, once they had settled on measures to contain the immediate violence, has proved wildly optimistic.

As holidaying golfers putted gently behind camera positions on the edge of the hotel course it was clear even before the meeting began that it would fail. All Mrs Albright could announce was a trilateral security committee chaired by the Americans, in which the CIA would participate.

There was no agreement on Yasser Arafat's key demand, for an international inquiry into the violence. On his return from Sharm el Sheikh last night, the Palestinian leader accused the Israelis of inflicting "massacres" on his people, and violating the rules of war.

Ms Albright warned it would be hard to move from "the psychology of confrontation to the psychology of peace-making". In fact, as diplomats on all sides acknowledge, there is no hope of a resumption of serious peace talks for weeks, if not months. President Clinton's hopes of ending his presidency with a Middle East triumph have vanished.

As anger at Israel continued to run high across the Arab world, with new protests yesterday in Sudan and Jordan, Egyptian officials did not hide their anger at the failure of their efforts to try to mediate. Amr Moussa, the Egyptian foreign minister, said Cairo would work with the US to try to save the peacemaking efforts.

But he condemned Ariel Sharon, the hardline Likud party leader whose provocative visit to holy Islamic sites in Jerusalem last week set off the conflagration "should cease and never be repeated". He spoke of a "poisonous" atmosphere, which "was now worsening".

More violence is feared today, as Arabs hold their Friday prayers, and Israelis commemorate Yom Kippur, anniversary of the 1973 war which indirectly led to the 1979 Israel-Egypt peace treaty, the first between the Jewish state and an Arab neighbour. The final settlement, which should have been completed by 13 September, looks further away than ever.

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