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Friday September 29, 2000

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Peace talks end without progress

By The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - Another round of talks between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators ended yesterday with no word of progress toward a peace accord.

A Palestinian official, Hassan Abdel Rahman, called the sessions, held at a northern Virginia hotel, "very useful."

Rahman, the Palestine Liberation Organization's chief representative in Washington, said "no proposals were made. This was consultation and exploration of the positions of the parties."

He told The Associated Press the next step was up to the American mediators.

The State Department declined to say whether the sessions dealt with the future of Jerusalem and other issues that must be resolved to conclude a settlement.

Spokesman Philip Reeker said he did not have "any specific information" and that the talks would be resumed. He gave no date.

Asked if U.S. mediator Dennis B. Ross had made any proposals to bridge differences between the two sides, Reeker replied, "No."

The Israeli delegation, headed by Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami, flew home in mid-afternoon, in time for the beginning of the Jewish New Year this evening.

The Palestinian delegation, headed by senior negotiator Saeb Erekat, was due to depart last night.

The State Department, meanwhile, criticized the House for voting this week to cut off all except humanitarian aid to the Palestinians if Yasser Arafat declares statehood.

The measure virtually restated the policy of the Clinton administration that statehood was an issue to be negotiated with Israel, not decided unilaterally, and that most U.S. aid would be cut off if Arafat acted on his own.

But Reeker said "while we try to take steps to help the parties and not hamper their efforts, we think that legislation just complicates the process."

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak has offered the Palestinians a state on virtually the entire West Bank and Gaza. Arafat is holding out for east Jerusalem, which would be the Palestinians' capital.

Proponents of the legislation said they were trying to promote a settlement, not place obstacles in its path.

The measure is "meant to send a very clear signal to Chairman Arafat and the Palestinian Authority: Do not destroy the peace process. Do not condemn the Middle East to another round of violence and war by unilaterally declaring a Palestinian state," Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., a co-sponsor of the measure, said this week.

On another front, Reeker called on "all sides" to exercise careful judgment and try to avoid tensions over a Jerusalem holy site.

The statement was a response to clashes between Palestinian rock-throwers and Israeli police at the site known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as Haram as-Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary.

The Palestinian demonstrators broke out after Ariel Sharon, leader of Israel's opposition Likud, toured the site.

In another development, leaders of The American Jewish Committee told Secretary of State Madeleine Albright they were distressed that Ambassador Martin Indyk's security clearance had been suspended.

They said in a letter that admired his commitment to Middle East peace, his professionalism, discretion and devotion to the protection of America's national interest.

Without a security clearance, the ambassador to Israel is unable to participate in U.S. peace efforts. Albright praised Indyk's contributions in testimony to Congress this week but said security rules must be enforced.

She and other State Department officials have not said what alleged violations were under investigation, but they have ruled out espionage.