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  Mideast Security Chiefs Meet Again

By Mark Lavie
Associated Press Writer
Thursday, May 31, 2001; 2:29 a.m. EDT

JERUSALEM –– Israeli and Palestinian security chiefs had their second meeting under U.S. auspices, but a car bombing, gunfire attacks and funerals overshadowed sputtering truce efforts.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, meanwhile, came under growing pressure from Jewish settlers to retaliate harshly for Palestinian shooting attacks on Israeli motorists in the West Bank.

In a condolence visit Wednesday night to the family of a settler killed in an ambush earlier this week, Sharon was evasive about a possible Israeli response.

"I know exactly who we are dealing with," Sharon said, referring to the Palestinian leadership and apparently unaware his comments were being taped.

"For years already, I have been saying (Palestinian leader Yasser) Arafat is primitive," Sharon said in remarks broadcast on Israeli radio stations Thursday.

Secretary of State Colin Powell called Sharon on Wednesday and said the international community was doing its best to help quell violence that has spiraled in the region for over eight months, Israel radio reported.

The United States has pushed both sides to resume security talks.

U.S. officials were unhappy over the absence of top West Bank security commanders at the first security meeting and canceled a Wednesday session with the Palestinians over another topic – implementing the report of an international commission on stopping the violence, according to an official close to the talks.

However, the second security meeting, about the Gaza Strip, was held late Wednesday, with many of the same participants. The U.S. side was represented by diplomats and the CIA, said the official, insisting on anonymity.

Maj. Gen. Abdel Razek el-Majaidah, chief of Palestinian public security in Gaza, said the Palestinians demanded that Israel remove restrictions and evacuate eight Palestinian houses seized in Gaza in the past month.

Israel demanded an end to Palestinian "violence and terrorism," according to a statement from the Defense Ministry, which said the talks would continue next week.

A car bomb exploded Wednesday in front of a high school in the seaside city of Netanya, sending pieces of metal flying in all directions, just 10 minutes after students left the school. No one was injured.

The militant Islamic Jihad group claimed responsibility for the attack in Netanya, which is just nine miles from the West Bank.

Two Israeli women killed in a Palestinian drive-by shooting in the West Bank were buried Wednesday, including Sara Blaustein, 53, who moved last year from Lawrence, New York, to the West Bank settlement of Efrat.

Her family asked the Israeli government not to send a representative to the funeral, to protest Sharon's declaration last week of what he said was a unilateral cease-fire, but was dismissed by Palestinians as a ploy.

At the other funeral, Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, who moved from New York to Efrat in 1983 with some of his followers, said a unilateral truce was surrender. "It is forbidden for us to surrender to evil," the rabbi said.

U.S. Ambassador Martin Indyk said in a statement that the shooting was a "premeditated terror attack."

The violence has taken 481 lives on the Palestinian side and 87 on the Israeli side since it erupted last September.

Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel must bring down the Palestinian Authority if violence doesn't stop. "Arafat has declared war on the state of Israel," Netanyahu said. "We have to make it clear to Arafat that if he continues with the policy of terrorism, we will bring about the collapse of his corrupt, terrorist regime."

Late Wednesday, gun battles raged in two locations in the Gaza Strip. Also, Palestinians opened fire on Israeli positions in several places in the West Bank, and Palestinians fired a mortar shell, which exploded harmlessly near the fence between Gaza and Israel, the Israeli military said.

Earlier in the week, the new Mideast envoy, William Burns, set in motion the security meetings and also started contacts over implementation of the report by the international commission headed by former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell.

Sharon said he accepts the report, which calls for a cease-fire, a cooling-off period, confidence-building measures and then peace talks. Sharon said he does not accept a key recommendation, to stop all construction in Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, but said that by the time that stage comes, an agreement can be negotiated.

But Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said there can be no division between discussions about improving security and advancing political talks, especially a halt to construction in Jewish settlements.

© Copyright 2001 The Associated Press

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