Israelis, Palestinians try to reduce violence

JERUSALEM, Nov. 27 (JTA) – As Israeli-Palestinian violence enters its third month, representatives from the two sides are trying to reduce the scale of the fighting.

There has even been talk of a new initiative to reach a peace deal.

But the real test of these efforts will be seen on the ground, where the violence continues to claim Israeli and Palestinian lives.

With the start Monday of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan traditionally a time for Islamic militancy Israeli security forces are bracing for the conflict to intensify.

Meanwhile, over the weekend, the two sides met on the diplomatic and security level.

In a phone call initiated last Friday by Russian President Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat pledged to work to resume security coordination.

The day before, Israel ordered the joint liaison offices with the Palestinians closed after an Israeli soldier was killed in a blast at one of the Gaza Strip offices.

That phone conversation was followed by a reported meeting Saturday night between Arafat and Israeli Cabinet minister Amnon Lipkin-Shahak. And on Sunday, the head of Israel’s Shin Bet domestic security service, Avi Dichter, met in Egypt with the head of the Palestinian security service in Gaza, Mohammed Dahlan.

At the same time, regional commanders of the Israel Defense Force reportedly met with their Palestinian security counterparts.

The site of the Dichter-Dahlan meeting indicates that Egypt is not yet abandoning its role of mediator, even though it recalled its ambassador to Israel last week.

Also on Sunday, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak met with Barak’s chief security adviser, Danny Yatom. During the meeting, Mubarak reportedly told Yatom that Israel must implement confidence-building measures before the Palestinian Authority can justify taking any steps to stop the violence.

As a gesture linked to the start of Ramadan, Israel on Monday reopened the Karni Crossing into Gaza to allow the flow of food, medicines and other essentials.

Despite the various contacts, violence on the ground has continued largely unabated.

Over the weekend, at least 10 Palestinians and two Israelis were killed in clashes in the West Bank and Gaza.

The two Israelis were Ariel Jaraffi, 40, who was killed in an ambush in the West Bank, and Maj. Sharon Arameh, 25, who was killed during a gun battle in southern Gaza.

On Sunday, the Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo again came under fire from the neighboring Arab town of Beit Jalla.

On Monday, gun battles erupted in the West Bank after Israeli troops killed five Palestinians near Kalkilya the night before. In that incident, Israeli soldiers opened fire after they “identified an armed gang of terrorists” that had opened fire on an Israeli vehicle traveling toward a Jewish settlement, according to an army statement. Palestinian officials said the five were unarmed civilians.

Israel is demanding that violence be reduced before political negotiations resume.

Observers have been split over whether Arafat has lost control over all the Palestinian forces operating on the ground, or whether he is using the unrest for political gain.

Meanwhile, Barak has signaled a shifting of diplomatic gears.

The Israeli daily Ha’aretz reported Sunday that Barak had directed senior advisers to begin drawing up a new political plan for resuming negotiations with the Palestinians.

On Monday, media reports indicated that various advisory forums including the National Security Council and the IDF general staff were working on position papers for a “long-term” interim agreement with the Palestinians.

The reports noted that Likud opposition leader Ariel Sharon, while serving as foreign minister in the government of Benjamin Netanyahu, had presented such a plan to the Palestinians, who rejected it.

The papers have yet to be submitted to Barak, but the working assumption for the idea is that the Palestinians are not yet prepared to reach a final peace agreement with Israel.

Observers also noted that were the sides to resume negotiations, the fast-approaching end to President Clinton’s presidency will not provide enough time to come up with a comprehensive agreement.

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