Barak says Israel will suspend talks

Monday, October 23rd 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

9 Palestinians killed in clashes as cease-fire fails

By Ed Timms / The Dallas Morning News

JERUSALEM – As violence escalated throughout the Palestinian territories Friday, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak called for a diplomatic "timeout" to rethink Israel's commitment to the peace process.

It was one of the deadliest days since the conflict began. At least nine Palestinians were killed and nearly 300 wounded. Six Israeli soldiers and a civilian driver also were wounded.

Mr. Barak met with Likud Party hard-liner Ariel Sharon to discuss forming an emergency "government of national unity." If realized, such a coalition could dramatically harden Israel's stance in future negotiations with the Palestinians, who want a nation of their own, a goal that has eluded them for more than 50 years.

Friday was a day of frustration for both sides. Palestinians expressed it by hurling rocks and Molotov cocktails. They angrily marched along the north wall of Jerusalem's Old City to protest an Israeli decision to keep men younger than 40 from the al-Aqsa Mosque, one of Islam's holiest sites.

They fired shots into a Jewish suburb of Jerusalem and exchanged gunfire with Israeli troops.

Many Palestinians angrily accused Israel of being intractably opposed to a Palestinian state. They said that Israelis, especially Jewish settlers who live in heavily defended communities within the Palestinian territories, have provoked violent confrontations. And they accuse Israeli soldiers of using excessive force.

Israeli officials vented their anger at what they see as Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's unwillingness or inability to honor an emergency cease-fire agreement that was reached this week specifically to end such violence.

Israeli Maj. Gen. Yitzhak Eitan said Friday that his soldiers have been careful to fire at Palestinians only when fired upon and only with appropriate force.

"If we did not behave like this, I think that the Palestinians would have many more casualties than they've had," he said.

The major general said that the Palestinian leadership has "done nothing to implement the cease-fire," and he also said that Palestinian violence against Israelis appeared to be increasing.

The U.N. General Assembly, in a third admonition of Israel, voted Friday to condemn what it called the "excessive use of force" by Israeli troops against Palestinians and called for a truce and resumption of peace talks.

The United States, Israel and four other countries voted against the nonbinding resolution. Ninety-two countries voted for the Palestinian-drafted resolution and 46 abstained.

A resolution passed Thursday by the U.N. Human Rights Commission accused Israel of "widespread, systematic and gross violation of human rights" during the recent crisis.

Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a strongly worded statement Friday that rebutted the rights commission's accusations. The ministry's statement called the resolution "hostile" and "unbalanced."

Mr. Barak demonstrated his frustration by announcing his decision to take a break from talking about peace in a television appearance Friday night, after the Jewish Sabbath had begun.

The "timeout," for perhaps two weeks, is scheduled to begin after a summit by Arab leaders over the weekend, where the crisis will be discussed.

"During this time, Israel will reassess the past few weeks, since violence erupted, and will make a decision when ... and in what way it will continue in the peace process," Israeli government spokesman Nahman Shay said.

Israel, he said, needs time to determine what went wrong. He also alluded to the possibility of a new Israeli government.

"That means for some time there will be no peace talks and no continuation of the peace process," he said.

Israel remains committed, he said, to ultimately resuming the peace process.

Friday's confrontations and Mr. Barak's announcement marked the unseemly end of the emergency cease-fire.

The aim of that agreement was to interrupt the latest cycle of violence between Israelis and Palestinians, which began on Sept. 28. On that day, Mr. Sharon, the hard-line politician, and other members of Israel's parliament – escorted by 1,000 police – visited a site in Jerusalem's Old City that is sacred to Jews and Muslims, provoking a riot.

Quickly dissatisfied with a cease-fire that was anything but, Mr. Barak on Wednesday imposed a 48-hour period for Palestinian leader Mr. Arafat to take substantive steps to halt the violence. That deadline ended Friday, even as young Palestinian men squared off against Israeli troops in several confrontations on the West Bank and in Gaza.

By late Friday, at least nine Palestinians reportedly had been killed and nearly 300 wounded. Six Israeli soldiers and a civilian driver were wounded Friday afternoon near Tulkarem when their bus inadvertently entered an area controlled by the Palestinian Authority.

As their bus turned around, according to Israeli officials, a Palestinian police officer fired into the bus.

Four Palestinians were killed near the West Bank town of Nablus after they fired on an Israeli vehicle. On Thursday, a rabbi and a Palestinian were killed on Mount Ebal, near Nablus, in a confrontation between Palestinians and a group of Jewish settlers, guarded by Israeli soldiers, on a day trip.

After shots were fired into Gilo, a Jewish suburb of Jerusalem, Israeli helicopters fired at targets within a nearby Palestinian neighborhood. Israeli helicopters also attacked Palestinian gunmen who fired into the village of Beit Sahour, near Bethlehem.

In the Palestinian community of Ramallah, north of Jerusalem, a massive pro-Palestinian demonstration rumbled through the streets and youths hurled rocks at Israeli soldiers.

Israeli police and soldiers turned out in force around Jerusalem's Old City on Friday, turning away hundreds of Palestinian men under the age of 40 who sought to pray in the al-Aqsa Mosque.

Many who could not get into the mosque instead held religious services across the street from the Old City's Damascus Gate. Imman Mohammed Ustah called upon other Arab countries to help the Palestinians and chided their leaders for not doing more.

"What we suffer, people cannot imagine," he told the worshipers.

After the religious service, hundreds of Palestinians, mostly young men, began marching along the Old City's north wall.

The march was joined by many along the street, as police on foot and horseback followed. The protest was relatively peaceful, until the demonstrators tried to march back toward the Damascus Gate. A brief scuffle began as police channeled them onto a side street. But the altercation did not develop into a full-scale riot.

One of the protesters, who declined to give his name, said that he would be back every Friday until he is allowed to enter the mosque and that there will be future demonstrations.

He said he tried to keep younger men from turning to violence Friday. But if Israelis continue to stop Muslims from entering their place of worship, he said, he may not care.