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UN secretary-general meets Arafat to push steps toward peace talks


JERUSALEM (AP) _ A shaky cease-fire held Saturday through violence and mutual complaints, while U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged Israel and the Palestinians to build quickly on the truce by taking steps toward peace talks.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat urged Israel to rein in Jewish settlers and said Israel has not loosened restrictions on Palestinian areas enough to make daily life any easier.

Israeli officials charged that Arafat has failed to clearly order an end to all shooting, saying a reduction in violence falls far short of a cease-fire.

Palestinian fired on Israeli troops near the border with Egypt, then started firing randomly _ killing 12-year-old Suleyman al-Massari and injuring four people _ when residents fearful of Israeli return-fire tried to stop them from shooting, witnesses and Palestinian security officials said. It was unclear if Israeli troops opened fire at all.

A Palestinian security official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Palestinian authorities were searching for ``some gunmen who are not respecting the law.'' Another security official said the gunmen were considered to have violated the president's cease-fire order.

Kahled Abu Musa, a 29-year-old grocery store owner, said he and others saw armed men start shooting at Israeli troops.

``Some residents tried to prevent them from shooting from the residential area,'' he said. ``The gunmen started firing randomly and I saw some people start to fall down.''

Earlier Saturday, five Palestinians were slightly injured in the Gaza Strip after throwing stones and, according to the Israeli army, climbing a fence outside Neve Dekalim settlement. The army said soldiers fired rubber bullets and tear gas at the group. Hospital officials in Khan Yunis said the injuries came from live ammunition.

The Israeli army also reported Palestinian gunfire and two mortar shells before dawn Saturday at various Israeli targets in the Gaza Strip. No injuries were reported.

After talks with Annan, Arafat said he had told the U.N. chief that ``unfortunately, the situation is very difficult.''

``Settler attacks have increased. ...Movement on the roads remains difficult,'' Arafat said, ``and I am sorry to say that Israeli soldiers are not listening to the orders they get from the political leadership.''

Under the cease-fire agreement mediated last week by CIA director George Tenet, both sides committed to preventing violence and resuming security cooperation. Israel was required to begin redeploying its troops to positions held before violence broke out Sept. 28 and to set a timetable with the Palestinians for lifting the closure.

Israel has reopened some roads and allowed food, fuel and other goods to move in and out of Palestinian areas. But Palestinians say too many main West Bank roads are still closed and long lines remain at some Israeli checkpoints on open roads. Crossing from Palestinian areas to Jordan and Egypt also was slow-going.

Avi Pazner, an aide to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said continued Palestinian gunfire shows Arafat has not made clear all violence must stop.

``The cease-fire is extremely fragile and it depends on Arafat because if it is not kept on the Palestinian side, of course it would be very difficult for us to keep it,'' he said.

Annan, who met with Sharon later Saturday, said he was pleased both sides had accepted recommendations of a commission led by former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell, which were used as the basis for the cease-fire.

``We have to try and consolidate the cease-fire and make sure it holds so that we can move on to the other essential and important aspects of the Mitchell report,'' he said.

The report also recommended confidence-building measures and an eventual return to peace negotiations, which collapsed not long after the violence broke out Sept. 28. Since then, 491 people on the Palestinian side and 111 on the Israeli side have been killed.

Arafat said Saturday that the Palestinians are committed to the cease-fire. ``We hope the other side will make the same commitment, especially to stop the crimes of settlers against our crops and our people and our villages everywhere,'' he added.

Palestinians consider Jewish settlers a key obstacle to any comprehensive peace agreement. Palestinians have accused settlers of many attacks since the cease-fire, including the shooting death of a Palestinian motorist Wednesday night.

From time to time, particularly after Palestinian militant attacks, settlers have gone on rampages, burning and destroying Palestinian property and fields. Settlers driving along West Bank roads have been targets of Palestinian bullets and stones.

The Mitchell commission recommended a complete freeze on settlement activity. The Israeli government wants construction to be allowed within the existing confines of settlements.

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