Beliefnet

SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt, Oct. 17 (AP)--In an atmosphere of high tension and mistrust, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat met warily at an emergency summit aimed at halting bloody clashes in the Mideast. Hours of talks yielded no cease-fire agreement by early Tuesday, despite President Clinton's admonition that "We cannot afford to fail."

Clinton met with Arafat and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak until past 1 a.m. Egypt time. Then Clinton conferred with Barak.

The White House refused to characterize the talks, although Israeli officials were downbeat. "I'm not going to say we're optimistic or pessimistic," said Jake Siewert, the president's press secretary. "We're working."

Meanwhile, violence pushed the death toll in nearly three weeks of violent clashes to above 100.

Surrounded by tight security, the leaders began their summit Monday at a two-story golf clubhouse at this Red Sea resort, famous for its coral reefs and scuba diving. They gathered around a horseshoe-shaped table, Arafat and Barak sitting away from other leaders and far apart from each other. After a late-morning start, the talks extended well into the night before breaking until Tuesday.

There were no smiles or handshakes for the cameras, and the attitude between Arafat and Barak was described as chilly. There were flashes of anger in a foreign ministers' meeting on another floor, but a senior U.S. official said both sides were working on concrete measures to end the violence and ensure calm.

The summit was hosted by Mubarak, who unmistakably blamed Israel for the violence. "The aggressions to which the Palestinian people were subjected during the last two weeks persuaded me to convene this meeting."

Also participating were King Abdullah of Jordan, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, and Javier Solana, the European Union's foreign affairs chief. Asked how the talks were proceeding, Annan cautiously responded: "Reasonably well."

Clinton refused to take sides. Saying the situation was "piled high with grievance," Clinton said, "we have got to move beyond blame."

Urging the parties to be "sober and serious," he set out three goals: to end the violence and restore security cooperation; to agree upon a fact-finding process about what happened "to bring us to this sad point," and to get the peace process going again.

In view of the mutual hostility, the most immediate goal was for a truce. The wounds and grievances on both sides are so deep, U.S. officials say, that it will be impossible to rebuild an atmosphere of trust quickly.

Press secretary Siewert said, "All the parties have shown some willingness to try to resolve their differences and restore calm. That's why they came here."

Both leaders were under intense pressure at home not to appear to make concessions. Arafat attended reluctantly after intense pressure from Clinton and other leaders.

Two Palestinians, including a 15-year-old boy, were killed by Israeli gunfire Monday in the deadliest violence in four days. In several areas, troops responded to fire from Palestinian gunmen leading large protest marches against a renewal of contacts with Israel.

The boy, Muayed Darwish, was shot in the head during a firefight near an Israeli enclave in the West Bank town of Bethlehem. Darwish was in a coma for several hours, hooked up to a respirator, before being declared dead.

In the Gaza Strip, a Palestinian policeman was killed after Israelis opened fire on Palestinians trying to cut holes in the border fence with Egypt. Thirty-eight demonstrators were injured in the clashes there. In the West Bank town of Nablus, 19 Palestinians were wounded, including two who were in serious condition.

In marches in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, thousands of Palestinians expressed their opposition to a cease-fire with Israel. "Yes to the intefadeh [uprising], no to the summit," proclaimed a banner signed by Arafat's Fatah faction and raised in the West Bank town of Ramallah.

In Ramallah, a group of masked militiamen joined a funeral procession for a Palestinian who died from injuries sustained last week.

The group marched in the front line with assault rifles. One youth even hoisted a rocket-propelled grenade launcher. As the funeral ended, the men headed toward an Israeli checkpoint and opened fire on Israeli troops.

In Nablus, more than 3,000 protesters marched through the main streets of the city. "We support [Yasser] Arafat because he withstood the pressure at Camp David and he will withstand the pressure now," said Assam El Dibri, a Fatah leader in Nablus, referring to the failed Mideast summit in Maryland in July.

Sheik Ahmed Yassin, the leader of the Islamic militant group Hamas, said the purpose of the summit "is to liquidate the Palestinian intefadeh and to force the Palestinians to surrender to Israeli and American demands."

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