BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: World: Middle East
Front Page 
Middle East 
South Asia 
From Our Own Correspondent 
Letter From America 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

The BBC's Orla Guerin
"Barak has an election to win - he needs a peace deal"
 real 56k

Sunday, 17 December, 2000, 17:07 GMT
Mid-East peace hopes shift to US
The Koran and Kalashnikov held aloft at Samih Malibi's funeral
The Koran and Kalashnikov held aloft at Samih Malibi's funeral
Both sides in the Middle East conflict are sending negotiators to Washington in a new effort to make progress towards a settlement of their conflict.

Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami is expected to leave for the United States on Monday, while the Palestinians are expected to meet US officials in Washington on Tuesday.

Their visits are seen as part of a final bid to achieve a peace settlement before US President Bill Clinton leaves office in January.

However the BBC's Paul Wood in Jerusalem says senior Palestinian officials are discounting any talk of a breakthrough and say they are emphatically not seeking a full-scale summit.

They say they want to decide on whether they should re-open formal peace talks with Israel, suspended during 11 weeks of violence.

After high-level talks on Saturday, Israel said the two sides were looking at ways to move the peace process forward - and reduce violence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak spoke to US Secretary of State-designate Colin Powell on Sunday about the Middle East peace process. The two men will speak again in the next few days, Mr Barak's office said.

President-elect George W Bush said on Saturday that his administration would seek peace in the Middle East based on a secure Israel.

'Explosive device'

In the latest trouble, Israeli soldiers are reported to have shot dead two Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, while a third Palestian died overnight in an an explosion.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat
Arafat: "Preparation needed before summit"
Witnesses said the two Palestinians were killed when they tried to help another Palestinian who had been shot and wounded by the border fence. They said there had been no previous clashes.

In a separate incident, an activist in Mr Arafat's Fatah movement, Samih Malabi, has died in what the Palestinians described as an apparent Israeli assassination attempt.

However Israel radio reported it was unclear whether the man, who died near Jerusalem, had been killed by his own explosive device or by Israeli security forces.

The Palestinians have accused the Israelis of killing individual activists in pinpoint attacks.

On the Israeli side, two buses carrying Jewish settler children to school were attacked in the Gaza Strip, but no casualties were reported.

Clinton determined

Tentative contacts between the Israelis and Palestinians resumed secretly last week, but have rapidly gathered momentum.

On Saturday Mr Arafat spoke by telephone to President Clinton, who again expressed his determination to reach a peace agreement during the short period of his remaining presidency.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak
Barak: Under pressure to achieve a deal
That night, Mr Ben-Ami held talks with Palestinian negotiators, but made no mention of any progress.

Mr Arafat told journalists on Sunday that he was ready to meet Mr Barak, but only after the right preparation.

"If it is needed, why not? But... we have to prepare for this meeting," he said.

The two sides are now racing to beat two deadlines which may alter the atmosphere and landscape of the Middle East permanently: The end of President Clinton's term in office and elections for the Israeli premiership.

But our correspondent says the difficulties in achieving a settlement remain immense, with the two sides as far apart as ever on the most difficult issues.

Palestinian officials say the latest round of meetings is being driven by the Americans and Israelis, and risks repeating the mistakes of the last Camp David summit.

Talks between the two sides broke down 11 weeks ago. Since then at least 325 people have died, nearly all of them Palestinians.

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console
See also:

14 Dec 00 | Middle East
Likud clears way for Netanyahu
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Middle East stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Middle East stories