Arafat calls for Mideast truce talks in Germany

The Associated Press
Wednesday August 22, 2001

JERUSALEM — Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat on Tuesday proposed truce talks in Germany, and Israel’s Foreign Minister Shimon Peres appeared likely to accept. Israel said the talks would focus on a plan for a gradual cease-fire to end 11 months of violence. 

Even as the details were under negotiation, a bomb rattled downtown Jerusalem near police headquarters but caused no casualties. 

Police said an explosion went off underneath a parked car, and a second bomb was found inside the vehicle. No one claimed responsibility, though Islamic militants have carried out dozens of bombings in the Mideast fighting. 

Arafat and Peres have met often for negotiations in the past few years, but amid the current violence and mistrust, producing a breakthrough is seen as extremely difficult. Several peace initiatives have failed, most recently a U.S.-brokered cease-fire declared in June. 

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer served as the broker in Tuesday’s talks, holding an afternoon meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in Jerusalem, between morning and evening sessions with Arafat in the nearby West Bank town of Ramallah. 

In a joint news conference with Fisher, Arafat suggested Berlin as a venue for cease-fire talks with Peres. Fischer seemed taken by surprise, but said he welcomed the proposal. 

“If this should happen in Berlin ... the door will be always open, but I think there are some other places not so far away in regional distances. But this is a good idea,” Fischer said. 

Peres, who was visiting Budapest, Hungary, said he intended to meet Arafat soon, but suggested that a date for a meeting has not yet been set. Israel radio, without citing sources, said Peres and Arafat would meet early next week in Berlin. 

“In principle, there is readiness to have such a meeting,” said Dore Gold, an adviser to Sharon. He would not give an exact date. 

The United States welcomed the meeting. “Whatever methodology that works for the two sides we will support,” deputy State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said Tuesday. Government spokesman Zalman Shoval confirmed that Israel wanted to pursue a gradual cease-fire with the initial focus on Palestinian areas that have been largely calm. If those regions remain quiet, the Israeli military would be prepared to ease or lift the closures that have restricted Palestinian movements for months, he said. 

“If there are areas where the Palestinian people are not involved in terror, we don’t think they should be closed,” he said. 

However, the Israeli forces would remain on high alert in areas where militants are believed to be planning attacks. The Gaza Strip has been the scene of frequent clashes, while Israel says multiple Palestinian bomb attacks have been launched from Jenin and Nablus in the West Bank. 

After his second meeting with Fischer, Arafat said the key to progress is implementing the recommendations of an international commission headed by former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell, which call for a cease-fire, a cooling-off period, confidence-building measures and peace talks. Arafat also insisted on sending international observers. The bomb Tuesday went off underneath a parked car in downtown Jerusalem. Police then set off a series of controlled explosions to neutralize what they said was a large bomb inside the car. No one was hurt. 

Police said either the first bomb was meant to set off the second one, or the bomb inside the vehicle was supposed to explode as police investigated the original blast. They said the car’s license plates were duplicated. The owner of the original car, an Arab from east Jerusalem, was detained, along with two other Arabs. 

In clashes Monday night and early Tuesday, 11 Palestinians were injured by Israeli army fire in the West Bank and Gaza. One of the wounded was in critical condition. 

In other violence Tuesday, two Palestinian police officers were seriously wounded in an exchange of fire with Israeli forces near Ramallah, Palestinians said. The Israeli military said soldiers returned Palestinian fire on an army outpost. 

The Palestinians, meanwhile, are seeking a full lifting of the Israeli blockades that have prevented tens of thousands of Palestinians from reaching work in Israel and have crippled the Palestinian economy. 

The Palestinians are also seeking greater European involvement in peace efforts, and have been critical of the reduced U.S. activity in the region under President Bush. 

At the United Nations, meanwhile, the United States made clear Monday it would not support Palestinian efforts for a Security Council resolution on the Middle East crisis. 

The draft, backed by Arab and Muslim states, calls for an immediate cessation of violence and the creation of a “monitoring mechanism,” which Israel opposes. 

Without backing from the United States — a veto-wielding permanent member of the council — it was unlikely that a draft resolution would go to a vote.