Settlers demand tougher action against Palestinians

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The Independent Online

Expectations dimmed Tuesday that a U.S.–mediated agreement would emerge anytime soon to end Israeli–Palestinian violence, even though Israel said it accepts a proposal made by CIA chief George Tenet.

Raanan Gissin, a close aide to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said Israel has concerns about the wording of the American proposal to end violence and get peace talks back on track, but accepts it.

"Despite our reservations, we accept the proposal as it is," Gissin said. He warned, however, that any violence after a cease–fire would mean a cooling off period, an Israeli requirement before progressing on the political track, would have to begin again.

The Palestinians said the two sides failed to agree and he complained of American bias toward Israel in the meeting. They were submitting their formal, written response to Tenet later Tuesday.

Jibril Rajoub, Palestinian security chief of the West Bank, said the Americans had not dealt with Palestinian reservations about setting a timetable for an Israeli commitment on lifting a security closure on the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

"The American suggestions could be summarized in one point, which is that the Palestinian Authority has to arrest a number of wanted people for Israel," Rajoub said. The Palestinians, he said, refused to agree to carrying out such arrests before the closure is lifted. Rajoub described the four–hour meeting as "stormy."

Rajoub said proposals discussed Monday night fell outside measures outlined in the Mitchell commission report, which lays out security and other measures for the two sides that were intended to get the peace process back on track.

Soon after the latest violence began in September, Israel imposed a security closure on the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Most Palestinians are confined to the territories and, at times, their hometowns. The closure has devastated the already struggling Palestinian economy; many Palestinians depend on jobs inside Israel.

Also Tuesday, for the first time in more than a week, Israeli F–16 warplanes carried out maneuvers Tuesday in skies over Gaza, flying at a high level, then dipping low and breaking the sound barrier with sonic booms a Palestinian security described as a "mock air raid."

The last overflight in the area was a week ago. An Israeli army spokesperson said such flights are part of routine maneuvers and refused to discuss details.

The troubled diplomacy came as Jewish settlers blamed Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for the death of an Israeli baby, killed by a Palestinian who threw a rock through the windshield of the family's car, and demanded retaliation.

Settlers shouted "you are to blame" as Sharon addressed mourners Monday evening outside his Jerusalem office.

Sharon replied, "if we stand firm and grit our teeth, and carry on even when the tears are choking us, we will win."

Thousands attended the funeral of 5–month–old Yehuda Shoham at Shilo after a procession that started in front of Sharon's office. Yehuda was critically injured June 5 while; he never regained consciousness and died on Monday.

Sharon won a landslide election victory on Feb. 6 after he promised to restore security for Israeli civilians after the outbreak of violence last September. The settlers, who were among his most enthusiastic supporters, are frustrated he has not responded more strongly to recent Palestinian attacks.

Diplomatic efforts were to continue Tuesday, though Rajoub said Tuesday morning that another three–way security meeting appeared unlikely for the day.

Tenet's schedule is kept secret. But Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Dalia Rabin–Pelesoff said violence would worsen if Tenet leaves without a deal.

"No doubt we can expect a serious escalation of shooting and battle between the sides – and a battle situation between the two will not allow any progress ... in the diplomatic arena," Rabin–Pelesoff told Israel radio.

Dan Meridor, chairman of Knesset foreign affairs and defense committee, said Israel's positive response to the Tenet proposal leaves the fate of talks "in the hands of Mr. Arafat, as always"

"If he responds positively with no tricks and no buts, no provisos, no ifs, and his violence stops altogether, we can go back to the negotiations," Meridor said.

In more than eight months of violence, 489 people have been killed on the Palestinian side and 109 on the Israeli side.