US urges both sides to end the killing

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The Independent Online
Avoiding direct criticism of Israel, the US yesterday urgently appealed to both Israelis and Palestinians to end the violence on the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and to take steps to prevent progress towards lasting peace from unravelling completely.

President Bill Clinton said the fighting, by far the worst since the first Israeli-Palestinian accords of 1993, "pointed to the urgency for both sides . . . to resolve the issues which divide them". In a thinly veiled rebuke to the Israeli government, Mr Clinton urged both sides to avoid "unnecessarily provocative actions" - an unmistakable reference to the decision to open a tunnel in Jerusalem near a holy Islamic site, which sparked the unrest.

Putting a brave face on the setback, the President said the eruption of violence and killing stood out "precisely because we have made so much progress, because violence was becoming the exception, not the rule."

The majority of Palestinians and Israelis wanted peace, Mr Clinton insisted, pleading with both sides to "avoid actions that could make progress more difficult," and to "get back to the business of peace".

How much impact Washington's urgings would have, remained to be seen here last night. Embroiled in the election campaign, Mr Clinton has avoided direct involvement in the crisis, leaving it to Warren Christopher, the Secretary of State, to carry US pleadings to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat.

The fighting rips away all pretence of co-operation between Israeli and Palestinian security forces in the former occupied territories.

In an election year especially, outspoken pressure from a US President on the Jewish state is all but unthinkable. Privately, the President was dismayed when Mr Netanyahu won the spring election. At their subsequent meetings here, Mr Clinton and the Prime Minister have been unable to do more than agree to disagree.

Fragile peace

13 September 1993 - Israel/PLO Declaration of Principles in Oslo.

28 September 1995 - Oslo II signed in Washington.

4 November 1995 - Yitzhak Rabin assassinated.

February-March 1996 - Hamas suicide bombings.

29 May - Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud wins election.

2 August - Israel ends four-year ban of Jewish settlement in West Bank.

25 and 26 September - Netanyahu's decision to open tunnel under old Jerusalem sparks violence on West Bank.

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