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Thursday October 5, 2000

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Barak agrees to pull back armament

By The Associated Press

PARIS - Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, in a move to quell escalating violence, agreed in a meeting with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to pull back Israeli tanks and personnel carriers from forward positions on the West Bank and Gaza, Israeli officials said yesterday.

The agreement, to be initialed under the supervision of Secretary of State Madeleine Albright after lengthy three-way talks, marks a step toward dispelling mistrust that has imperiled already shaky peacemaking efforts between Israel and the Palestinians.

Under the deal, Israeli tanks and armored personnel carriers would be returned to military bases within the Israeli-controlled territory.

The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said talks would be continued today in Egypt, with the participation of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

Yesterday's talks were described by the United States as intense.

The agreement came after Arafat briefly stormed out of the meeting yesterday, returning only after Albright persuaded him to do so.

Nabil Shaath, a top aide to Arafat, said the Palestinian leader was angered by the Israeli and American refusal to set up an international inquiry into the recent bloodshed in Israel and the Palestinian areas.

"He was angry and she tried to persuade him to return, and she did persuade him to return," Shaath told The Associated Press. He did not elaborate.

The talks between the two leaders and Albright stretched late into the night. Shortly before midnight, the three hurried over to the Elysee Palace to meet with French President Jacques Chirac, who has spearheaded a European diplomatic effort to end the violence. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan also was participating.

The principals sat around a round table at the palace, with their advisers in the background.

President Clinton, in Florida for a series of fund-raisers, was briefed on the talks during the day by his national security adviser, Sandy Berger.

Albright held two rounds of separate talks with each of the leaders before convening the three-way session. She had urged them to return to the "psychology of peacemaking."

More than 60 people have been killed and in excess of 1,800 injured, most of them Palestinians, in the fighting, which was triggered by a Sept. 28 visit to Jerusalem's Al Aqsa mosque compound by right-wing Israeli politician Ariel Sharon.

In advance of the three-way meeting, Barak and Arafat passed blame for the violence.

"Every morning, youngsters are coming from Nablus. Together with policemen and with street gangs ... they are opening fire, throwing Molotov cocktails, shooting into the isolated strong positions of the Israelis," Barak said after a meeting earlier yesterday with French President Jacques Chirac. "It is only self-defense that is executed in these places."

He called for "a clear-cut order from Chairman Arafat to his own militias and policemen to stop shooting and everything will calm down immediately."

Arafat, who met separately with Chirac, decried the "serious massacre which is being perpetrated against the Palestinian people."

He had set "protection and an international inquiry" into the violence as preconditions for the three-way meeting with Barak and Albright.

Barak's office has said he "totally rejected the call for an international investigation."

From Paris, Arafat and Barak planned to go to Sharm el-Sheik in Egypt to meet with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

In his initial two-hour session with Albright, Barak told the secretary of state that the Palestinians were violating agreements with Israel by acquiring illegal arms and shooting at soldiers, Barak's office said.

"The prime minister said at the meeting that cessation of violence is a precondition for any continuation of the negotiations, and asked Arafat to choose between the road to an agreement or the sliding down to violence, and that he (Arafat) carries the responsibility for the results," said a statement issued by Barak's office.

Afterward, Albright met with Arafat for 90 minutes.

The State Department, meanwhile, issued a "worldwide caution" warning Americans to be vigilant about their personal security in light of the violence in the Middle East. These events "have raised the possibility that there may be protests in support of Palestinians throughout the Gulf region and elsewhere," the department said.

Albright is attempting to salvage the already-stalled Middle East peace process, which has been set back further by the latest outbreak of violence. She was to be joined by CIA Director George Tenet, who was planning to take part in discussions on security issues.

"I believe that if people do not talk together, they will lose, but if they talk, they will have a chance to win," said Palestinian Legislative Council member Ziad Abu-Zayyad.

A diplomatic drive, led by Clinton at a July summit in Camp David, Md., to forge an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement had lost momentum even before the recent violence.