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U.S. ‘peace Team’ Arrives in Israel Amid Flurry of Diplomatic Activity

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An American team of diplomats arrived here Thursday to launch a wide-ranging, intensive effort to save the Middle East peace process.

The team, headed by Dennis Ross, the State Department’s new coordinator for the peace talks, met for two hours with Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and with Foreign Minister Shimon Peres.

“We had good discussions,” Ross said after ward, adding: “This is the beginning of several days of discussions, and I look forward to continuing to work on what we’re doing now.”

The U.S. team planned to hold sessions Friday with Palestinian leaders before proceeding on to Egypt, Syria and Jordan. They will wind up back in Jerusalem, to report to Israeli officials on their round of talks.

The American trip was preceded by a flurry of diplomatic activity also connected to the peace process.

A day before the Americans arrived in Israel, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak made a surprise visit to Latakia, Syria, where he met with President Hafez Assad.

Mubarak’s visit came shortly after he concluded talks in Alexandria, Egypt, with Foreign Minister Peres.

At a news conference in Latakia, the two Arab leaders said they were committed to continuing the peace process.

“We should continue the negotiations, because pulling out” would “harm our cause, and we would be the losers,” Mubarak said.

CONFLICTING PALESTINIAN STATEMENTS

In Amman, Jordan’s King Hussein met with Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasir Arafat.

There were conflicting reports about whether the Palestinians might reconsider their refusal to accept a draft American document aimed at bridging differences with the Israelis over a joint declaration of principles for continuing the peace negotiations.

In Moscow, Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Yossi Beilin held what were described as “constructive” talks with a Palestinian delegation, which reportedly did not reject the American draft altogether.

But Palestinian spokeswoman Hanan Ashrawi was again quoted Thursday as saying that the Palestinians rejected the American draft paper and were demanding a discussion of jurisdiction in the territories and the future of Jerusalem “within the basic terms of reference.”

The American paper states that negotiations on the permanent status of Jerusalem should be postponed until the final stage of the negotiations, which are due to begin in the third year after an autonomy plan is implemented in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

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