Rabin cuts short US visit after 14 killed

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The Independent Online
THE Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, has cut short his visit to the United States to return to Israel tomorrow to deal with increasing violence in the Israeli-occupied Gaza Strip, which has led to the deaths of six Israelis and eight Palestinians.

Yesterday Israeli soldiers shot dead two Palestinians and wounded 60 other demonstrators in Gaza while Jewish settlers killed another Arab, Palestinian sources said. Jewish settlers living in the occupied territories have been reacting angrily to a spate of attacks by Palestinians.

In Washington, President Bill Clinton had earlier made clear that the dollars 3bn ( pounds 2.1bn) annual US aid grant to Israel would be unaffected by US budget cuts. During a joint press conference with Mr Rabin he also said that the fate of Palestinian deportees stuck on the Israeli-Lebanese border was no longer on the political agenda so far as the US was concerned. Mr Clinton said: 'We did not discuss that.'

Mr Clinton failed to make any effort to reassure the Arabs that his stance on the Middle East peace negotiations would be even- handed. He promised to reduce any security risks to Israel in pursuing peace by 'maintaining Israel's qualitative military edge'.

'Israel's security must be assured,' Mr Clinton said.' The Israeli people cannot be expected to make peace unless they feel secure.'

The emphasis placed by Mr Clinton on close relations with Israel and his promise to maintain, at least until 1994, current levels of aid are largely a response to domestic politics both in the US and Israel. The White House wants to cultivate the pro-Israeli lobby in Congress and elsewhere and make no fresh enemies while it produces its economic and health care reforms.

Mr Rabin has largely failed to make much impact on Israel's economic problems and therefore needs to keep US aid at current levels. A senior White House official said that if a peace agreement was reached between Israel and its neighbours then aid might be increased.

The Middle East peace negotiations are due to resume in Washington on 20 April, and the US has said it will play a more active role than it did during the previous eight rounds. This has made the Israelis wary because, while they certainly want US pressure to push the Syrians towards talks, they do not want the US to intervene in their negotiations with the Palestinians.

Mr Clinton confirmed that 'the United States wanted to be a partner in this process but we recognised we had to be a mediator and that, in the end, the only thing that would make peace possible was the assurance of security that would come to the parties afterward.'

After his meeting with Mr Clinton Mr Rabin said: 'We made it clear that we accept the principle of the withdrawal of the armed forces of Israel on the Golan Heights to a secure and recognised boundary. But we will not enter negotiations on the dimensions of the withdrawal without knowing what kind of peace Syria offers us.'

Although Mr Rabin said he was 'ready for compromise', the extent of Israeli willingness to withdraw from the Golan will depend of the security guarantees Washington is willing to provide to the Israelis in the event of an agreement being reached.

The US is also assuming that the Palestinians cannot afford to stay out of the peace talks when they resume.