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Ross Urges Sides to Endorse Clinton Statement on Peace Process

U.S. envoy Dennis Ross is mounting a last-ditch effort to convince Israel and the Palestinian Authority to allow a presidential summation of the state of the peace process before President Clinton leaves office on Jan. 20, amid warnings from the Israeli military that Clinton’s proposals would undermine Israeli security.

Clinton has proposed that Jerusalem be divided according to ethnic composition, that a Palestinian state be established in virtually all of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and that international patrols — rather than the Israeli army – – secure the Jordan Valley against a threat from the East.

The Israeli army chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Shaul Mofaz, laid out the army’s reservations on Tuesday in a briefing for the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

Mofaz warned that the proposals would “eat away” at Israel’s ability to defend itself in the face of future threats. To ensure its security, Israel must retain sole control over the Jordan Valley as a defensive buffer and control border crossings to prevent the flow of arms into the Palestinian area, Mofaz said.

Mofaz added that Jerusalem must not be divided, as a lack of contiguity for Jewish neighborhoods would create dangerous friction points. He also called for buffer areas off limits to armed Palestinian security forces.

According to a Palestinian source, Israeli, Palestinian and American representatives were to meet in Gaza on Tuesday night in an effort to restore security cooperation. That meeting would follow security discussions in Cairo this week.

Some Palestinian officials denied any progress was made at the Cairo talks, but Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s chief of staff, Gilead Sher, told Israel Radio that the sides had adopted an eight-point plan presented by CIA director George Tenet aimed at reducing the violence and increasing counterterrorism efforts.

Meanwhile, Barak said Tuesday that Ross’ latest shuttle mission would seek to convince Israel and the Palestinians to allow Clinton to make a statement summing up his peace efforts. Barak and Clinton spoke by phone on Tuesday.

Ross “will try to achieve certain understandings about a statement, a presidential statement, that President Clinton might release toward the end of his term,” Barak told reporters at Hadassah-Ein Kerem hospital, where he visited an Israeli boy wounded in a shooting attack Monday night.

Such a declaration could provide an outline for future negotiations, though Clinton this week said the incoming administration of George W. Bush would not be bound by it.

With Clinton due to leave office on Jan. 20 and Barak facing elections on Feb. 6, all parties to the contacts are skeptical that a full peace agreement can be achieved in the time left.

At the same time, Sher said it is possible “some real progress can be made.”

In exchange for Israel’s territorial concessions, the Clinton plan asks the Palestinians to scale back their demand that Arabs who fled Israel in 1948, and their descendants, be allowed to return to their former homes.

Both sides have given their conditional acceptance of the plan, but with significant reservations. The Palestinians have said they cannot agree to anything less than a full right of return. Israel has said it cannot grant the Palestinians sovereignty over Jerusalem’s Temple Mount.

On Tuesday, Israeli security forces detained a Palestinian fugitive in the Bethlehem area wanted for involvement in terrorist attacks. His assistant also was apprehended.

Following the arrests, Palestinian gunmen opened fire on Israeli army posts near the settlement of Efrat and the tunnel road linking the Etzion bloc of settlements to Jerusalem.

Also Tuesday, the military wing of Hamas claimed responsibility for last week’s bombing in Netanya in which some 50 people were wounded. The group said the attack was carried out by Hamad Abu Hijlah, an engineering student from Al- Najah University in Nablus. Hamas said he was the critically injured person who died in an Israeli hospital Monday before being identified.

In other violence, Palestinians said a Palestinian was killed by Israel army fire during confrontations near the West Bank city of Jenin. Israel said troops had come under a torrent of stones, felt threatened and opened fire.

The army also disclosed the findings of an inquiry into the shooting death of a Palestinian near Kalkilya. Israel Radio quoted the army as saying that he had been among a group stoning Israeli cars, endangering the passengers. An army sniper aimed at the Palestinian’s legs, but he was hit in the stomach and died of his injuries.

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