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Archive for Sunday, January 7, 2001

Palestinian, Israeli talks on hold while blockades up

January 7, 2001

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— Palestinian security officials insisted Saturday they can do nothing to quell unrest until Israel lifts its blockade of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, complicating a U.S. push to stem three months of bloodshed.

The comments clouded the prospects for a visit to the region by CIA chief George Tenet, the latest move in the American effort to stop the fighting and set up a final round of peace talks in President Clinton's waning term.

Tenet is to meet today in Cairo with senior Israeli and Palestinian security officials.

For Israel, the meeting will focus on resuming security cooperation broken off amid the recent violence, an Israeli official said on condition he not be named. He said more ambitious plans for the meeting had been scrapped, but would not elaborate.

Both sides said Saturday that they would not be sending some of the top-level people originally expected.

Chief among those dropped were Israeli Cabinet Minister Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, a frequent negotiator, and Mohammed Dahlan, chief of security for Gaza.

Dahlan's office said he would not attend "as long as "Israeli aggression against Palestinian people everywhere is still going on."

Dahlan's deputy, Rashid Abu Shbak, said the security meeting seemed "doomed to fail."

"We can't do anything if the Israelis don't show any seriousness toward cooling down the situation," Shbak said.

To start with, he said, that would take Israel's lifting its closure of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and its barricades within Gaza.

The measures bar Palestinians from entering Israel and limit movement within the Palestinian territories. The blockades have been off-and-on during the past three months of violence.

Israel clamped down full force last week after a car bomb exploded in the coastal town of Netanya, injuring dozens.

Israel has said it would resume negotiations only if Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat tried to reduce violence, as the White House said Arafat pledged to do last week.

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