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  Israeli, Palestinians Meet

By Mark Lavie
Associated Press Writer
Tuesday, May 29, 2001; 7:06 p.m. EDT

JERUSALEM –– Israeli and Palestinian security officials met for the first time in two months Tuesday, renewing efforts to ease months of violence that claimed six more lives.

Despite hints the Israeli government might compromise on the divisive settlement issue, Israel's housing minister said Tuesday that plans are going ahead for hundreds of new homes in the West Bank.

In violence Tuesday threatening to overshadow attempts to arrange a cease-fire, three Jewish settlers, including an American immigrant, were killed in drive-by shootings and two Palestinians died from Israeli fire. Another Palestinian was killed when he blew himself up at an Israeli checkpoint in the Gaza Strip.

Israeli and Palestinian security officials met for the first time in two months at the urging of the new Middle East envoy, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State William Burns. Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said the talks would be held in two rounds – with West Bank security chiefs late Tuesday and their Gaza Strip counterparts Wednesday.

The meeting of West Bank leaders lasted less than two hours, said West Bank intelligence chief Tawfik Tirawi, and no progress was made. He said Israel demanded an end to violence, but the Palestinians replied that they were acting in self-defense.

In a statement, the Israeli Defense Ministry said Israel asked the Palestinians to follow the Israeli example and declare a cease-fire, but the Palestinians refused.

Past meetings have failed to restore the Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation that evaporated when the current round of fighting broke out eight months ago.

Burns has been pressing the two sides to begin implementing recommendations of an international commission headed by former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell, which calls for an end to the violence followed by confidence-building measures, including a total freeze on settlement construction.

Israel says it accepts the report, even though Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has in the past objected to a total settlement freeze, saying the communities had to expand to accommodate "natural growth."

On Tuesday, Israeli Housing Minister Natan Sharansky told Israel Radio he had approved construction bids for 496 new housing units in Maale Adumim, outside Jerusalem, and 217 units in Alfei Menashe, near Tel Aviv.

Palestinians, who want to set up a state in all of the West Bank and Gaza, say the 144 settlements – where 200,000 Israelis live – are illegal and must be dismantled. The United States has called them an obstacle to peace.

In violence Tuesday, two Palestinians were killed at an Israeli outpost in the Gaza Strip, including a suicide bomber with explosives strapped to his body. The other was shot and killed while throwing a grenade. Two soldiers were injured.

Also Tuesday, Israeli forces shot and killed a Palestinian in a car near Jericho, the Israeli military said.

Three Israeli settlers were killed and four were wounded in two Palestinian ambushes in the West Bank.

In one attack, Palestinians in a passing car opened fire on an Israeli vehicle near the settlement of Neve Daniel, south of Jerusalem, killing two settlers and wounding three.

One of the dead in that attack was Sarah Blaustein, 53, an immigrant from the United States. Her husband, Norman, 53, was slightly wounded, and a son, Sammy, 27, was seriously wounded with three bullets in his back. The Blaustein family, from Lawrence, N.Y., moved to the settlement of Efrat about a year ago, according to settlers.

Earlier, Palestinians opened fire on a car near Nablus, killing Gilead Zar, 41, head of security for settlements in the northern West Bank. Zar was badly wounded in a Palestinian shooting attack last year.

Ben-Eliezer said Arafat's Fatah organization claimed responsibility for the shooting, which he called "very regrettable."

Since the fighting erupted last September, 481 people have been killed on the Palestinian side and 88 on the Israeli side.

© Copyright 2001 The Associated Press

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