Peres to launch last-ditch peace bid with Arafat

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The Independent Online

Plans were afoot last night for another attempt to find a diplomatic solution to the Middle East crisis as fighting in Israeli-occupied territories continued and four more Palestinians were shot dead by the Israeli army.

Plans were afoot last night for another attempt to find a diplomatic solution to the Middle East crisis as fighting in Israeli-occupied territories continued and four more Palestinians were shot dead by the Israeli army.

Israel's former prime minister Shimon Peres is expected to meet Yasser Arafat - with whom he jointly won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994 - in the hope of ending the conflict in which at least 154 people have died.

Nachman Shai, an Israeli government spokesman, said Mr Peres is one of the last Israelis who can talk with the Palestinian leader, adding that there was "no chemistry" between Mr Arafat and Ehud Barak, the Israeli Prime Minister. But the odds that either Mr Peres - a minister in Mr Barak's crumbled government - or Mr Arafat can revive the mood of peace that they once enjoyed are extremely low.

The Oslo process for which they won their prize has been wholly discredited among Palestinians and many Israelis. And the spiral of violence keeps generating more.

The timing of the meeting was unclear last night, although the need for a solution was as obvious as ever. As darkness fell battles raged on, with Israeli tanks firing at least four shells into Arab neighbourhoods close to Bethlehem, and Palestinian machine-guns firing at Israeli positions.

If anything the mood worsened yesterday. Palestinian leaders have increasingly been calling for a United Nations protection force, and this was repeated in New York yesterday. After the latest wave of Israeli helicopter strikes on Monday night, aimed at Fatah buildings and Mr Arafat's Force 17 bodyguard in retaliation for the killing of two Israeli citizens, the Palestinian leader called yesterday for renewed resistance by Palestinian youths, who have been attacking Israeli positions daily with stones and Molotov cocktails.

Israel has consistently accused Mr Arafat - rather than the failures of Oslo diplomacy - of causing the violence.

"What happened here and elsewhere in the Palestinian territories will not shake one hair on the head of the Palestinian children," said Mr Arafat as he surveyed the wreckage of a Force 17 base at Khan Yunis in Gaza.

Referring to air strikes, Mr Barak warned: "The long reach of the Israeli army could be much more painful."

In a battle that lasted all day, four Palestinians were shot dead by Israeli troops at the Karni crossing point in the Gaza Strip, and 45 people were injured.

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