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As Crisis Rages, Clinton Considers a Final Push for Middle East Peace

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As Israeli-Palestinian violence continues unabated, reports emerged that U.S. officials are making a last-ditch effort to revive peace talks before President Clinton leaves office next month.

Senior sources in Jerusalem say the United States is considering sending an envoy to the region in an attempt to renew the talks, Israel Radio reported.

According to Wednesday’s report, the U.S. official may be Secretary of State Madeleine Albright or Clinton himself.

The report appeared after U.S. Middle East envoy Dennis Ross met Tuesday in Morocco with Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat to assess the possibility of renewed talks. Sources, however, described the meeting as difficult and disappointing.

Earlier reports had said the United States would not consider launching any new mediation effort and would instead focus on getting the two sides to reduce the violence.

The Israeli daily Ma’ariv, however, reported that Clinton told Prime Minister Ehud Barak in a phone conversation this week that he is prepared to undertake one last peace mission before leaving office.

After Barak resigned this week, setting in motion early elections next year, his electoral hopes lie in reaching a deal he can present to the public, turning the election into a referendum on his peace policies.

Israeli sources downplay the likelihood of any agreement, putting it at less than 50 percent, the Israeli daily Ha’aretz reported.

Barak would face sharp opposition in the Knesset, which has already given preliminary approval to a bill barring a prime minister who lacks a parliamentary majority — such as Barak — from signing, or even initialing, international agreements.

In addition, some analysts have noted, Arafat probably would be reluctant to sign an agreement or make any concessions to an Israeli prime minister who could shortly be voted out of office.

Meanwhile, Ma’ariv reported that Jordan and Egypt are trying to come up with a bridging proposal to revive the Israeli-Palestinian talks.

According to the paper, Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami discussed the proposal in Paris this week with Egyptian presidential adviser Osama el-Baz.

Ben-Ami said he raised the idea of a high-profile U.S. mediation effort with U.S. National Security Adviser Sandy Berger.

Ben-Ami also has been involved with diplomatic feelers Israel and the Palestinians have been putting out to see if there is a basis for renewing negotiations.

Efforts have been hampered by the on-going violence, however. On Wednesday, a mob of Palestinians confronted a group of Israeli soldiers near the Khan Yunis refugee camp in the Gaza Strip in what became a nine-hour battle.

Witnesses said up to 1,000 Palestinian gunmen ran on foot from all over the camp and elsewhere in Gaza to join Palestinian police in the battle.

Four Palestinian policemen died in the fighting, described as one of the fiercest clashes since violence erupted in late September.

In another incident Wednesday, Hamas officials claimed that an unarmed member of the militant group was shot and killed by Israeli troops in Hebron.

Israeli army officials, who reported exchanges of fire between armed Palestinians and Israeli troops in Hebron, said they were still investigating the claim.

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