US steps up pressure for crisis summit

Middle East showdown: White House firm in face of Arab leaders' request to delay talks
Click to follow
The Independent Online
Dismissing Arab demands for a postponement, the United States yesterday pressed ahead with plans to convene an emergency Middle East summit to try to restore peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Mike McCurry, the White House spokesman, said: "We expect the meeting that the President announced yesterday to proceed."

Earlier, Yasser Arafat, the Palestine Liberation Organisation chairman, and President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt asked President Bill Clinton to postpone the summit set for tomorrow in Washington. Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, and King Hussein of Jordan have already left for the US. Later, after American officials said there was no question of delaying the summit, Palestinian officials said that Mr Arafat would go to Washington in any case. US officials said last night President Mubarak would not be coming.

The request for a delay came because both Mr Arafat and President Mubarak said they wanted assurances that the summit would produce something. Mr Netanyahu has said he will not discuss the closure of the tunnel in the old city ofJerusalem, which sparked off the fighting last week in which 59 Palestinians and 14 Israelis died.

Both the US and the Palestinians say they want a date for the Israeli redeployment from Hebron, now under heavy curfew. . Mr Arafat will first go first to Luxembourg for a meeting with European Union foreign ministers before continuing to Washington.

Mr Netanyahu, on his way to the US, called for non-stop negotiations with the Palestinians on withdrawal from Hebron. The offer is likely to be treated with suspicion by the Palestinians because the terms of an Israeli redeployment were signed last year; they want the accord carried out as agreed.

Asked if Mr Clinton had any commitments that the Washington meeting would produce substantive results, Mr McCurry said: "These talks are occurring without preconditions. But based on the President's conversations yesterday, he hopes and expects the leaders to arrive in a frame of mind to make progress on the issues that divide them." Five weeks before the presidential election, Mr Clinton will be eager to avoid anything which looks like a diplomatic failure, but he will also not want to alienate Jewish American voters by putting pressure on Mr Netanyahu.

Earlier, an all-night meeting between Israeli, Palestinian, US and UN officials failed to produce any agreement on what would be on the agenda in Washington. Marwan Kanafani, the Palestinian spokesman, said: "The idea was to agree on most everything here before going to Washington, but no conclusions were reached." He said the meeting between Abu Mazen for the PLO, Dore Gold for Mr Netanyahu, and Martin Indyk, the US ambassador, was a failure.

Mr Kanafani said: "The Israelis refused to agree on any political issues. They wanted to discuss security issues. They are not serious and Arafat does not want to meet Netanyahu just for the sake of meeting him."

Meanwhile, Israeli commanders in the Gaza Strip were quoted as saying yesterday that indiscriminate shooting by Jewish settlers and Israeli soldiers ignited the bloodiest day of clashes in the strip last week. At least 21 people were killed and 350 wounded. The daily Haaretz said that during a tour of the Gaza settlements on Sunday, General Ariel Sharon, the Israeli Infrastructure Minister, was told by army commanders that shooting by settlers and Israeli soldiers had set events spinning out of control.

The commander of the Kfar Darom sector, Lieutenant Colonel Avi, told General Sharon: "An assembly began and stone-throwing, and there was a demonstration and attempts to disperse it by Assaf [the Israeli officer in charge] and also by the Palestinian police. The demonstrators got too close to the [settlement's] fence and shots were fired in the air. That pretty much set the sector on fire."

The newspaper quoted Brigadier General Yitzhak Eitan as adding: "This place is what set the whole strip on fire in the morning." Mr Netanyahu has accused Mr Arafat and the Palestinian police of opening fire first.

Netanyahu profile, page 14