Israel recalls peace envoys

Palestinian security forces restore order after days of riots

Stockholm talks halted

Travel restrictions in West Bank, Gaza hurt tourist business

May 22, 2000|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

JERUSALEM - Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak summoned peace envoys home and barred Israelis and foreign tourists from Palestinian-run parts of the West Bank and Gaza in response to more than a week of riots that claimed another victim early yesterday: a badly burned 2-year-old Israeli girl.

The mounting pressure on the Palestinian leadership to quell the disturbances appeared to work. As the day progressed, Palestinian security forces restored order to most parts of the West Bank and Gaza, and only minor skirmishes were reported between Palestinian youths and Israeli soldiers and settlers.

The toddler was riding in a car that was hit by a firebomb in Jericho, one of the most tranquil parts of the West Bank. Her mother and aunt were also injured.

The days of exploding Palestinian anger and retaliation by Israeli soldiers left five Palestinians dead and hundreds, possibly 1,000, wounded, according to medical and human rights reports. Among Israelis, 40 soldiers and 22 civilians were injured.

Barak's office said he had decided to cut short a round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks in Stockholm, Sweden, because of the riots, the worst violence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in years.

"He doesn't want to be seen conducting business as usual as though nothing's going on," a government official said. Former Prime Minister Shimon Peres drew widespread derision for continuing peace talks during outbreaks of terrorism.

The negotiators, Shlomo Ben-Ami and Gilead Sher, were to end their talks in a day or two. Bringing them home early will allow Barak to resume the talks later without a major shift in policy.

Palestinian officials criticized Barak's action. Ahmed Abdel Rahman, general secretary of the Palestinian Authority, called it "an irresponsible decision" and said it would lead to "further deterioration and increased tensions."

Sealing off much of the West Bank and Gaza to Israelis and foreign tourists amounted to harsher punishment of the Palestinians, because it struck at their weak economy. The booming European-run casino in Jericho, ordinarily filled with Israeli gamblers, was likely to be hard hit. Numerous tour buses were prevented from entering Bethlehem yesterday.

Barak noted during a Cabinet meeting yesterday that the new roadblocks "interfere with people's daily lives and the local economy."

In an earlier move to punish the Palestinians, he delayed the handover of three Arab villages near Jerusalem to full Palestinian control.

His government also rejected the main Palestinian demand emanating from the disturbances: release of the more than 1,600 Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails. Justice Minister Yossi Beilin said yesterday that they would only be freed once a peace agreement had been reached.

But if the riots produced no tangible gains for the Palestinians and much suffering, they also cast Israel again in the role of armed occupier, battling Palestinian teen-agers in scenes reminiscent of the intifada, or uprising, of a decade ago.

The usual weapons were rocks and Molotov cocktails hurled by Palestinians and rubber bullets fired by Israelis, but two gunbattles occurred with live ammunition exchanged by Israelis and Palestinian police and civilians.

The speed with which the Palestinian Authority restored order yesterday bolstered Israeli arguments that Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat had previously done little to prevent the riots.

In a speech at Tel Aviv University yesterday, President Clinton's national security adviser warned of more violence if a peace accord isn't reached.

"The alternative to a peaceful compromise is not the status quo; it is something very different and, I am convinced, far worse," Samuel R. Berger told the audience. He also stressed the central role that the Palestinian conflict plays in Israel's relations with Arabs generally. "The Palestinian issue still resonates deeply from one end of the Arab world to the other. It feeds and will continue to feed the passions and the emotions of millions of Arabs."

To reach peace, the two sides will have to reach beyond "rigid notions of territory and security and sovereignty," and their leaders will have to actively build a constituency for peace "by making the argument for peace," he said.

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