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The BBC's Paul Adams in Jerusalem
"An agreement without the right of return won't be an agreement... just ink on paper.... it won't last"
 real 56k

The BBC's Jonny Dymond in Washington
"Every indication is that there has been some kind of acceptance but everything depends on the conditions"
 real 56k

Wednesday, 3 January, 2001, 17:56 GMT
Arafat 'accepts' US peace plan
Palestinian policemen look at an Israeli armored vehicle near their post at the crossing of the Jewish Netzarim settlement in Gaza
Tensions remain high on the ground
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has given conditional acceptance to a US plan to restart Middle East peace talks, according to the White House.


[Arafat] accepted [the US plan] with his interpretations and principles

PLO 's Washington representative
"What that means is that both sides have now accepted the president's ideas with some reservations, and that represents a step forward," White House spokesman Jake Siewert said.

Earlier the Palestinian Liberation Organisation representative in Washington, Hassan Abdel Rahman, said Mr Arafat's acceptance was subject to the Palestinian leader's own "interpretations and principles".

Mr Arafat is due to discuss the issue with Arab foreign ministers in Cairo on Thursday after holding three hours of meetings with President Bill Clinton earlier in the week.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat leaves the White House
Aides put a positive spin on Arafat's White House talks
Palestinian officials have previously insisted that proposals to break the deadlock presented by Mr Clinton fall a long way short of their requirements on key issues - such as sovereignty of Israeli-occupied areas and the right of return of millions of Palestinian refugees.

Mr Clinton briefed Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak during a 45-minute phone conversation on Wednesday, after which Mr Barak called an urgent meeting of top ministers, Israel Radio said.

Tough talk

Israeli ministers have stepped up the bellicose rhetoric, saying no Palestinian was immune from Israeli reprisal attacks.

Deputy Defence Minister Ephraim Sneh said Israel would continue with its policy of assassinating Palestinians suspected of involvement in attacks on Israelis, including those serving in Mr Arafat's Palestinian Authority.

Israeli PM Ehud Barak
Ehud Barak: Telephone briefing from Clinton on Wednesday
"If anyone has committed or is planning to carry out terrorist acts, he has to be hit," he told Israel army radio.

Palestinian minister Hassan Asfour described the comments as "confirmation of the true face of the Barak government".

"This government has opted for crime and military oppression in a desperate attempt to impose its political logic on our people," Palestinian radio quoted him as saying.

Reported American proposals
Israel to concede sovereignty over much of East Jerusalem and the Al-Aqsa mosque
Palestinians give up the right of return for Palestinian refugees
Palestinian state on 95% of the West Bank and 100% of the Gaza Strip
While the Washington talks were in progress, Israeli tanks exchanged fire with Palestinian police near the West Bank town of Ramallah. One policeman was wounded.

Israel radio said the Israeli army closed major roads in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, cutting the territory into three parts.

It said Palestinian forces fired at the Netzarim Jewish settlement overnight, but there were no reports of casualties.

More than 350 people, mostly Palestinians, have been killed since the Palestinians launched their uprising three months ago.

Mr Barak has said he does not believe Mr Clinton can broker a peace agreement before his presidential term ends.

El Al attack

Examining damage at an office building in Zurich hosting the Israeli El Al Airlines
The blast damaged the airline's Zurich office

There has been an explosion outside the offices of the Israeli airline, El Al, in the Swiss city of Zurich, causing damage but no injuries.

Police said it was probably triggered by a small explosive device.

A group calling itself "For a Revolutionary Perspective" - described by the authorities as left-wing extremists - said it carried out the attack in a bid to halt what it called massacres in Turkey, Kurdish areas and Palestine.

The same group is believed to have carried out similar small explosions last year, including one at the centre in Davos where the World Economic Forum is held.

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See also:

31 Dec 00 | Middle East
Barak: It's me or war
26 Dec 00 | Media reports
Israeli press wary of Clinton plan
25 Dec 00 | Europe
Pope laments Mid-East violence
23 Oct 00 | Middle East
Claiming the 'Promised Land'
31 Dec 00 | Middle East
The Kahanes: Like father, like son
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