November 22, 2002

Peres, Arafat Seek Route to Peace

In truce talks held at the urging of the United States, Israel and the Palestine agreed on September 26 on a series of confidence-building measures aimed at ending a year of fighting.

The two sides said they would resume security co-ordination and exert maximum efforts to enforce a ceasefire. In a first gesture, Israel was to ease security closures that have severely disrupted daily life in the Palestinian areas.

Yet violence continued even as the two leaders met, underscoring the fragility of a truce. Just 5 kilometres from the meeting site, a 14-year-old Palestinian boy was killed and 11 youngsters were wounded when Israeli troops fired on a crowd of stone-throwers. Earlier, three Israeli soldiers were wounded when Palestinians set off an explosion at an army post in the same area.

Both sides approached the talks with great skepticism.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has been reluctant to allow the meeting to proceed. Sharon has portrayed Arafat as an unrepentant terrorist and said he could not be trusted. The Palestinians, in turn, have been concerned that Peres, the leading dove in Sharon's government, only has a limited mandate.

A major test of the truce will come tomorrow when Palestinians plan to mark the first anniversary of the fighting with marches across the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Traditionally, such marches have ended in confrontations with Israeli troops.

The United States hopes to calm the Mideast conflict, which threatens to get in the way of coalition-building efforts for the US-led fight against international terrorism.

US Secretary of State Colin Powell repeatedly called Arafat and Sharon in recent days, urging them to hold the talks. Sharon cancelled two previous sessions, arguing Arafat was not trying hard enough to contain violence.

( China Daily 09/27/2001)

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