The Associated Press
SHARM EL-SHEIK, Egypt - Ending an emergency summit fraught with anger and mistrust, Israeli and Palestinian leaders agreed yesterday to publicly urge an end to a burst of bloody conflict and to consult within two weeks on restarting the ravaged Mideast peace process.
In the West Bank and Gaza Strip, new violence flared even as marathon negotiations in this Red Sea resort reached a finale. That cast doubt on whether a concerted effort by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat could halt chaotic street clashes between Israeli troops and Palestinian stone-throwers and gunmen that raged for a 20th day.
Israeli security forces "will be meticulous in their efforts to end the violence and prevent further loss of life," Barak said in Jerusalem, responding to a provision in the agreement requiring each of the leaders to make a public statement denouncing the violence.
Arafat was expected to make a statement later yesterday.
Earlier yesterday, as he returned to Gaza, Arafat told reporters, "We expect that the implementation will be exactly as we agreed upon."
Barak said the agreement contained "clear understandings" on ways to calm tensions. "If the Palestinian side sticks to it and we do our part, and there really is a calming down, then this is a significant change."
Soon after the deal was announced, the militant Islamic group Hamas said it was not bound by it. And in the latest wave of violence, two Palestinians were killed yesterday in fierce gunbattles, pushing the death toll above 100, nearly all of them Palestinians. An Israeli policeman was critically wounded in a Jerusalem firefight.
Reading a carefully worded statement at the conclusion of 28 hours of talks interrupted only by a four-hour rest period, President Clinton said, "We have made important commitments here today against a backdrop of tragedy and crisis. Repairing the damage will take time and great effort by all of us."
The talks were complex ones, involving seven parties - Israel and the Palestinians, the United States, the United Nations, Egypt, Jordan and the European Union. Clinton held more than 20 meetings, the White House said.
Underscoring the depths of the bitterness lingering between the parties, the agreements that emerged from the summit were described as "understandings," with no formal signing taking place.
The "understandings" included taking some practical steps to cool tensions, such as lifting Israel's blockade of the West Bank and Gaza, reopening the Gaza airport and instituting measures to separate the two sides at points of friction. No specific deadlines were disclosed, however.
Additionally, within two weeks the two sides were to meet with American mediators to explore the possibility of resuming talks, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said.
The summit's host, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, said the summit's outcome is "not equal to what our peoples aspire to, but they could be the basis for continuing our efforts to achieve peace."
The Palestinian delegation pointedly refused to give an enthusiastic endorsement. They went directly from the conference center to the airport without making any statements. Before the deal was announced, Arafat aide Nabil Shaath said the Palestinians "are not happy, but we want to protect the lives of our people."
Barak said Israel achieved its main objectives at the summit.
"Let me emphasize that the real test of all the understandings and agreements is implementation," he said. "We will ask to stop the violence in the spirit of understandings and concessions determined here and at Camp David."
Back in the West Bank, Jibril Rajoub, the Palestinian security chief there, said the onus for restoring calm is on the Israelis.
"It's they who created this crisis, they are the ones who used acts of killing and terrorism against our people," Rajoub said. "What is needed now is for them to take all the necessary measures to stop this violence."
Saying he feared tensions may reignite, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan called on both sides to "weigh their words carefully" while steps are taken to restore calm. "Ending the violence is a real achievement. But language can be violent too," Annan said.
Clinton's appeal for the two sides to "move beyond blame" and resume peace negotiations may prove difficult to achieve. Both Israel and the Palestinians have balked at promising outright to abide by a cease-fire because each believes that in doing so, they accept too large a share of responsibility for the carnage.
Israel says it has taken only the measures necessary to protect its soldiers and citizens, with the use of heavy weaponry like tanks and helicopter gunships falling into that category. Palestinians furiously dismissed that, saying the Israelis had blasted away with firepower disproportionate to the threat posed by stone-throwing crowds and paramilitary gunmen.
It was also apparent before the summit that the two sides would have tremendous difficulty agreeing on how to investigate the causes of the violence.
Israel, believing it had already been convicted in the court of world opinion, said it would accept only a fact-finding effort led by its chief ally, the United States. Palestinians, certain that the United States would protect Israel from censure, insisted on a broader-based international inquiry.
A compromise emerged: Annan would work with the United States in setting up a fact-finding mechanism, with the final report published under U.S. auspices, Clinton said.
Even before the summit ended, some on both sides expressed pessimism that any truce would hold. Israeli Cabinet minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer told Israel's army radio that a cease-fire agreement would hardly affect "what's going to happen in the field."
Mohammed Dahlan, Palestinian security chief for the Gaza Strip, told army radio he wouldn't disarm an Arafat-affiliated paramilitary force because its gunmen were acting in self-defense.