Cease-fire, but no formal agreement

PARIS, Oct. 5 (JTA) – U.S. diplomacy has succeeded in getting an agreement to end the worst Israeli-Palestinian violence in years.

Israeli and Palestinian officials agreed to a cease-fire during 10 hours of talks Wednesday in Paris, according to U.S. Middle East envoy Dennis Ross.

The decision to avoid confrontations came after the two sides failed to sign a more wide-ranging formal agreement during the meetings in Paris with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

Israeli officials said the Paris talks broke down over Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat’s insistence that an international panel investigate the causes of the violence.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak opposed the idea before the Paris talks began, saying the investigation should be carried out solely by Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Under the more limited cease-fire agreement, Barak and Arafat issued simultaneous orders to their troop commanders to separate their forces in three key areas, according to Ross.

Those areas included the Netzarim junction in the Gaza Strip, a volatile area near Ramallah and Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus.

On Thursday, Albright met in Egypt with Arafat and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to discuss the past week‚s violence in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and within Israel’s borders.

Barak boycotted Thursday’s meeting after the Paris talks failed to reach a more wide-ranging agreement. Barak went home saying there was no point in further negotiations.

At least 60 people were killed, mostly Palestinians, in rioting that was touched off Sept. 28, when Likud Party leader Ariel Sharon visited the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

Bloody riots on the Temple Mount spread to the West Bank, Gaza Strip and parts of Israel, where Israeli Arabs launched their own actions against Israel.

In Paris, Barak and Arafat also met with United Nation’s Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who warned that Israel was on the brink of “all-out war.”

Arafat gave three conditions for ending the riots and for continuing the peace process: a cease-fire from Israel, the retreat of Israeli forces from the Palestinian autonomous zones and the mosques in Jerusalem, and the establishment of a commission of inquiry into troops’ conduct during the riots in Israel. The commission would comprise Israelis, Palestinians, Americans and members of the European Union.

Israel flatly rejected the last condition.

“We don’t need a need a committee biased against Israel to investigate things,” Israeli Justice Minister Yossi Beilin told Israel Radio on Wednesday.

In the midst of the meetings, Barak signaled he was still determined to reach a peace accord but said he held Arafat and the Palestinian Authority “responsible for the uprisings and the wave of violence.”

Barak was steadfast in defending Israeli troops, who “defend Israeli citizens who cannot defend themselves alone.” But, “in the mean time, we hold out our hand to peace.”

Toward the end of the week, the violence was limited to fewer sites. At least two Palestinians were killed Wednesday in heavy exchange of fire in the Netzarim junction in the Gaza Strip. Journalists were beaten up and cameras were damaged in a demonstration in downtown Jaffa.

In the meantime, Palestinians and Israelis exchanged heavy fire in several places in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Israeli Apache gunships fired at Palestinian positions at the Netzarim area, reportedly in response to Palestinian attacks on an Israeli post.

Spirits cooled down Wednesday among Israel‚s Arabs and most roads were reopened to traffic.

Arsonists caused more than 100 forest fires in the Galilee over an area 2,000 acres. Earlier they set alight three factories, and scores of vehicles owned by Jews.

Barak met Tuesday with a group of Arab Knesset members and community leaders and agreed to set up an independent inquiry commission into events leading to the violence.

A Palestinian official had assured Israel that Likud Party leader Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem last week would not lead to violence, an Israeli Cabinet member told the Knesset. Acting Foreign Minister Shlomo BenAmi said the head of the Palestinian security forces in the West Bank, Jibril Rajoub, told him that as long as Sharon stayed of the Al-Aksa Mosque, the visit would pass peacefully

Likud Knesset Member Gideon Ezra said that had Knesset members been warned that “there is danger in the actual visit,” it would have been canceled.

Barak met Tuesday with a group of Arab Knesset members and community leaders who agreed to set up an independent commission to look into what caused the violence among Israeli Arabs.

Israeli President Moshe Katsav suggested Wednesday that this week’s events could lead to a strengthening of the right wing in Israel’s politics.

Katsav also indicated that the violence would narrow the political gaps in Israeli society.

“Things will not be the same after last Friday,” said Katsav. “As a result of the developments, Israelis will take a different stand on events in the Middle East.”

Knesset member Natan Sharansky, head of the immigrants’ rights Yisrael B’Aliyah Party, suggested Wednesday that Barak establish a national unity government.

The escalation among Israel’s Arabs this past week reduced chances for a new, narrow coalition that would be based on the outside support of 10 Arab Knesset members. On Wednesday in Paris, where the talks were talking place, the French Jewish community called for a cease-fire and negotiations.

“We need a peace process that will correspond with reality. Israel is obliged to make some sacrifices,” said Theo Klein, honorary president of CRIF, a French Jewish umbrella group. “It is Yom Kippur now, and we must be thinking of making amends.”

French Jews are generally in favor of reestablishing peace talks, and many said that the hastily arranged meetings in Paris should serve to bolster confidence in the peace process.

(JTA correspondent Gil Sedan in Jerusalem contributed to this report.)

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