Six more die before Clinton-Arafat talks

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The Independent Online

Six more people died in the Israeli-occupied territories yesterday as Yasser Arafat and Bill Clinton prepared to meet in Washington to discuss the spiral of Middle East violence.

Six more people died in the Israeli-occupied territories yesterday as Yasser Arafat and Bill Clinton prepared to meet in Washington to discuss the spiral of Middle East violence.

The Palestinian leader was due to fly to Washington after meeting Tony Blair in London yesterday for talks about how to extract the region from the bloodshed in which at least 183 people have died.

He embarked on his mission to a stinging rebuke from Ehud Barak, Israel's Prime Minister, over the killing yesterday of an Israeli woman. She was shot dead by Palestinian gunmen who ambushed her car as she drove to the Israeli-controlled Gaza Strip border crossing with Egypt, where she worked.

A radical new militia called Omar al-Mukhtar - based in Syria and part of a faction that split from Mr Arafat's Fatah organisation - is said to have claimed responsibility.

Mr Barak said the attack "called into question the seriousness of Mr Arafat's intentions" to implement the understandings reached at Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt just over three weeks ago and aimed at sealing a ceasefire.

The understandings were never signed, and mostly not enacted. A week ago, Shimon Peres, a former Israeli premier, and Mr Arafat agreed to make another attempt at implementing them, but the results have been very patchy.

Five of yesterday's deaths were Palestinian. Three were teenagers shot dead by Israeli troops while two succumbed to injuries received earlier.

At least eight people have died since Tuesday, including a seven-year-old Arab boy who Palestinians allege was run over by Jewish settlers in a hit-and-run in the West Bank. Yesterday, Israeli tanks fired shells in Gaza.

Mr Blair was expected to concentrate on encouraging the Palestinian leader to implement the ceasefire. The Palestinians argue this is impossible until the Israeli armed forces stop killing Arab rioters, including children. Mr Arafat will press his demand for an international protection force.

Mr Clinton might tentatively explore the scope for a political deal, and he is sure to press the merits of a new fact-finding committee led by the former US senator George Mitchell.

But the prospects for the near future are grim, because neither Mr Barak nor Mr Arafat can give much ground over their differences without jeopardising their own positions.

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