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News Analysis: Meaning of Cease-fire Questioned As Violence Continues in the Region

The cease-fire reached at an emergency summit in Egypt this week has left many questioning whether it has any real meaning.

Just hours after Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat agreed to restore law and order on Tuesday, violence shook the region, much as it has for the past several weeks.

Both Barak and Arafat seemed to be waiting for the other to take the steps called for in the agreement, including a public call for the end to violence.

Instead the streets again erupted Tuesday with the violence that has all but destroyed any sense of trust that either side may previously have had for the other.

Among the incidents:

On the outskirts of Jerusalem, Palestinian militiamen shot at homes in the Jewish neighborhood of Gilo. Israel responded with machine-gun fire from tanks stationed in the area. One Israeli border policeman was in critical condition after being shot, and one Israeli civilian was slightly injured as Israeli security forces evacuated residents from their homes.

In the Gaza Strip, hundreds of Palestinians threw rocks and firebombs at an Israeli military checkpoint. During the ensuing fighting Tuesday, a Palestinian policeman was killed by a bullet to the chest and 10 Palestinians were injured, according to local hospital officials.

In Ramallah, scene of some of the worst violence in recent days, about 300 Palestinians marched to protest the cease-fire agreed to at the summit in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheik.

In Nablus, Jewish settlers shot dead a Palestinian and wounded three others as they picked olives near the West Bank city. The settlers reportedly said they fired the shots because the land belonged to them.

The Nablus incident took place before Middle East leaders agreed at the summit to end the violence that has killed at least 103 people, all but seven of them Arabs, since Sept. 28.

Still, the repercussions of the Nablus shootings – along with those that took place later Tuesday – are likely to felt in the coming days.

In an indication of how far things have deteriorated since the violence began, Barak and Arafat reportedly had no direct conversations during the summit.

Instead President Clinton served as the major go-between, along with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Jordan’s King Abdullah, chief E.U. diplomat Javier Solana and the host, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. And, perhaps more significantly, when the two leaders returned home Tuesday, neither took any of the “immediate steps” to end the violence they had agreed to at the summit’s conclusion.

Neither of them issued a statement condemning the violence; neither spoke of backing off.

Instead, Arafat said the “important thing” of the Sharm el-Sheik summit “is the implementation.”

Barak repeated his oft-spoken warning that Israel “will know what to do” if Palestinian violence persists.

In announcing the agreement at the end of the summit on Tuesday, Clinton said the two sides would act immediately to return the situation to what existed before the crisis erupted.

This included restoring law and order; Israel’s redeploying its forces from, and ending its closure of, major Palestinian population centers in the West Bank; enhancing security cooperation between the two sides; and working to eliminate points of friction.

The agreement also calls for a U.S.-led committee to investigate the causes of the violence. But it will not be an international inquiry as the Palestinians had wanted.

The agreement does not establish a timetable for a return to peace talks, but calls, as Clinton said Tuesday, for a “pathway back to negotiations” to reach a permanent-status agreement.

Among Israelis, the news that an agreement had been reached was greeted with skepticism and suspicion.

In normally bustling downtown Jerusalem, the atmosphere was relatively quiet and the mood subdued.

Still, the city’s annual Sukkot parade attracted thousands of marchers who paraded through the city center.

Ruben Makover, 32, a photographer, said of the agreement, “It’s not worth the paper it’s written on.

“Everyone sees that Arafat has lost control” of the Palestinian street, he said.

“I just don’t trust them anymore” a young Israeli stewardess said of the Palestinians.

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