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SECURITY commanders seek timetable for Mideast truce amid suspicion

Updated:
JERUSALEM (AP) _ With no apparent progress in security meetings aimed at enforcing a cease-fire, Israeli settlers, soldiers and Palestinians clashed in the West Bank and Gaza Strip on Friday.

Settlers burned a field and clashed with Palestinian villagers in Silat al-Daher, where an Israeli was shot and killed Wednesday. In the West Bank city of Hebron, Palestinians threw nine firebombs at Israeli soldiers, the military said. Witnesses said soldiers fired rubber-coated steel pellets to break up the demonstration. No one was hurt.

At the Halhoul intersection near Hebron, Jewish settlers threw rocks at Palestinian cars, causing some damage but no injuries, witnesses said. Israeli soldiers diverted Palestinian cars from the intersection and tried to disperse the settlers' demonstration without using force, the military said.

Israeli and Palestinian security commanders met Thursday, but no progress was reported on working out a timetable for carrying out a truce plan negotiated last week by CIA director George Tenet.

The Palestinians said Israel should lift travel restrictions and roadblocks and pull out its troops and heavy equipment within two weeks. Israel said the redeployment would take four weeks, but would not even begin until all Palestinian violence stops.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State William Burns was scheduled to meet with Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres later Friday. Burns, the U.S. envoy to the Middle East, was expected to see Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat on Saturday.

The Palestinian Cabinet, meeting late Thursday, repeated its commitment to the cease-fire but charged that Israel is endangering the truce because of its refusal to lift restrictions. The Palestinian leadership also charged that ``continuous settler attacks'' are part of a plan ``under the protection of the Israeli army.''

A Palestinian official, requesting anonymity, said his side was running out of patience. He said if a timetable is not agreed on soon, the Palestinians might abandon the Tenet truce plan.

Israeli settlers from the West Bank and their backers were also exasperated by the Tenet program, but for the opposite reasons. Demonstrating in Jerusalem and shouting down a government official during a funeral for a settler killed in a Palestinian shooting, they clamored for an end to the cease-fire so that Israel could hit back at the Palestinians.

But Justice Minister Meir Sheetrit said violence has ``dropped significantly'' since the cease-fire took effect. Sheetrit defended the government decision not to retaliate. ``I can understand the pain and anger of the people,'' he said, but responsible decisions must be made, not based on ``feelings of revenge or anger or fury or anything else.'' He said Israel has gained valuable world support by holding fire.

Breaking with Sharon's demand of a total end to violence, Sheetrit told The Associated Press that if Arafat makes a sincere effort to stop attacks, then the remaining violence ``becomes a joint problem for us and the Palestinians.'' However, he said, Arafat ``is not doing that.''

In the strongest statement yet by a leader of the settlers, Pinhas Wallerstein of the Council of Settlements said the settlers would rise up in protest against Sharon, whom they helped elect, believing he would crack down on the Palestinians. Now, Wallerstein told Israel television, ``nobody understands what the government is doing.''

The growing opposition to government restraint surfaced during the funeral of Iliya Krivitz, 59, who was shot to death near his West Bank settlement of Homesh on Wednesday. Mourners refused to let deputy Public Security Minister Gideon Ezra, representing the government, deliver a eulogy. They shouted at him that the government was responsible for the deaths of settlers. Three have been killed in the last week, along with an Israeli army officer.

Responding to his critics, Sharon, speaking Thursday at an economic conference, said: ``All those who ask for quick results are weakening the nation.''

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