Mid-East impasse greets US mediator

Israel said the Palestinian leadership must act to prevent violence and the Palestinians said Israel must stop building new Jewish settlements as Dennis Ross, the American peace envoy, yesterday tried to mediate between the two sides. Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian negotiator, said Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, "has to make up his mind between settlements and peace. He cannot have both".

Mr Ross was due to fly back to the United States to see President Bill Clinton yesterday after meeting Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader, and Mr Netanyahu. The Israeli leader said: "What is required is a continued effort by the Palestinian Authority against terror, and not just short term measures."

Israel said it would not allow Mr Arafat to benefit from the recent violence by making concessions. This presumably rules out any possibility of Israel showing flexibility over its construction of a new Jewish settlement at Har Homa in Jerusalem. The best hope of work stopping appears to be the discovery that there may be ancient Jewish burial caves at Har Homa which ultra-orthodox Jews would oppose disturbing.

Israeli tanks and snipers were stationed close to autonomous Palestinian enclaves yesterday as riots continued in Hebron with 25 people injured by rubber bullets and two by live rounds, but with no fatalities.

Two-thirds of Israeli Jews support continuing talks with the Palestinians, according to a poll in the daily Ma'ariv. This is despite the fact that 39 per cent hold Mr Arafat directly responsible for the suicide bombing of the Apropo cafe in Tel Aviv, which killed three women and wounded 61 people. Some 67 per cent said there was a connection between the suicide bombing and the building at Har Homa.

The poll showed 44 per cent of Israelis support an independent Palestinian state, with 50 per cent opposed. But almost half also say that there should be a permanent closure on the occupied territories and Israel should take military action within the autonomous enclaves. This would lead to more suicide bombs and a collapse of the Oslo agreements. The assassination of Yahya Ayyash, chief bomb maker of Islamic Jihad, in Gaza last year led to four suicide bombs which killed 61 people in Israel and led to Mr Netanyahu's election as prime minister.

Aside from the Tel Aviv bomb, the level of violence on the West Bank has not been high. The critical test will come tomorrow, when there is a traditional day of protest against Israeli land confiscations known as "land day". Although some contact between Israeli and Palestinian security has resumed, relations remain cool.

Marwan Barghouti, the leader of Fatah, Mr Arafat's movement on the West Bank, angered Israel by sending his blessings to the family of Mahmoud Ranimat, the suicide bomber who blew up the cafe. He said: "We should strengthen relations with all the Palestinian elements, including Hamas [the Islamic militant organisation], to stand up to the challenges the government of Israel is putting in our way."

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