SHARM EL-SHEIK, Egypt, Oct. 16 (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 Monday aimed at halting bloody clashes in the Mideast. ``We cannot afford to fail,'' President Clinton warned.
He implored both sides ``to move beyond blame'' after more than two weeks of armed clashes on the West Bank and Gaza that left about 100 people dead, most of them Palestinians. It has been the worst Israeli-Palestinian violence since 1993, when the Oslo peace accords launched the now-shattered peace process.
Fighting flared anew less than an hour after the summit opened. A Palestinian police officer was killed and dozens of civilians were wounded by Israeli fire, which came in response to Palestinian rock-throwing and gunfire.
Palestinians attacked Israeli soldiers, who responded with tear gas and rubber-coated steel bullets, at several locations, while Palestinian militiamen engaged the Israelis with gunfire at two West Bank marches.
A protest in Nablus broke into chaos when about a third of the Palestinians marching toward an Israeli army checkpoint broke away to throw stones at Israeli jeeps. The altercation worsened when Palestinian gunmen fired at the soldiers from a stand of olive trees nearby.
A similar exchange of gunfire came at the Israeli army checkpoint at Ramallah, which has seen some of the fiercest clashes of the conflict. Gunmen there hid in buildings and fired at Israeli soldiers at the end of the funeral of an earlier Palestinian victim of the violence.
Other clashes boiled to the surface in Hebron, where Palestinians stormed the Israeli-controlled center of the city, and at Rachel's tomb, a Jewish holy site outside Bethlehem.
Witnesses and medical sources said more than 30 Palestinians and two Israelis were wounded. At least one Palestinian died.
Surrounded by tight security, the leaders met 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 past dark.
There were no smiles or handshakes for the cameras, but officials said the two men did shake hands. Their attitude toward each other was described as chilly. There were flashes of anger in a foreign ministers' meeting on another floor, but a senior U.S. official said they were working on concrete measures to end the violence and ensure calm.
The summit was hosted by Egyptian President Hosni 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.
White House press secretary Jake 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.
After opening statements, the seven participants huddled in a corner of the room and then met around another horseshoe table for lunch in a room with a glass wall overlooking the golf course. Clinton held separate meetings in the afternoon with Barak and then Arafat.
Mubarak called for ``saving what is left of the credibility of the peace process.''
Clinton, too, urged both sides to remember how far they have come since 1993. ``We shouldn't give it all up for what has happened in the last few weeks,'' he said. ``And what has happened in these last few weeks reminds us of the terrible alternative to continuing to live in peace and to continuing the peace process.''
The president appeared weary after an overnight flight from Washington and long days of telephone diplomacy to try to calm the violence. Eager for a Mideast peace treaty to cap his presidency, Clinton has just three months left in office to realize his goal, seriously jeopardized by the violence.
The violence erupted after a Sept. 28 visit by Israel's hawkish opposition leader, Ariel Sharon, to a Jerusalem shrine holy to Jews and Muslims.
Attitudes on both sides have been hardened by images that horrified the world: a terrified 12-year-old Palestinian boy crying in his father's arms before being fatally shot; Israeli soldiers killed by a Palestinian mob that mutilated their bodies.
Going into the summit, the Palestinians demanded an end of Israeli military attacks on Palestinians, a halt to restrictions on movements around Palestinian areas and a pullback of Israel heavy weaponry from the outskirts of Palestinian towns.
The most contentious Palestinian demand was for an international commission to investigate the violence. Israel said it will only accept a panel led by the United States, its closest ally.
Barak, meanwhile, insisted on a halt to Palestinian attacks on Israeli soldiers and civilians and the re-arrest of extremists from the Hamas and Islamic Jihad movements who were released this past week. He is called for the Palestinian media to stop its calls for further attacks against Israel.