Monday, December 14, 1998 Published at 11:50 GMT
World: Middle East
Clinton begins Gaza tour
President Clinton and Yasser Arafat open the airport in Gaza
President Clinton is holding talks in Gaza with the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, on the first visit by an American president to territory run by Palestinians.
President Clinton and Mr Arafat went on to open the new Gaza International Airport, presenting each other and their wives with pieces of the cut ribbon as mementos.
The president then left the airport by helicopter for a short flight to central Gaza.
Mr Arafat described the president's presence in the Palestinian controlled territory as an historic visit which honoured the Palestinian people.
Security for the visit is tight with hundreds of American and Palestinian security personnel involved. Eyewitnesses said a row erupted when US secret service agents attempted briefly to search Yasser Arafat's car.
Talks with council
President Clinton's Gaza trip follows a passionate appeal to Israelis to work with the Palestinians to achieve peace.
He has also planned talks with Palestinian leaders to salvage the land-for-security peace accord brokered in October.
An appearance at a meeting of the Palestinian National Council is the centrepiece of the president's trip, where the president is expected to urge the council to amend parts of its 1964 charter calling for the destruction of the Jewish state.
The Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu says there will be no more troop withdrawals from the West Bank unless the council votes to annul these parts of the charter.
However, our correspondent Bridget Kendall, who is travelling with the president, says the Americans seem confident the issue will be resolved.
Mr Clinton has intentionally left his evening open, and is likely to bring the Israeli and Palestinian leaders together then for a three-way summit.
American officials insist it is not about recognising Palestinian statehood. But western diplomats privately admit the symbolism cannot be discounted.
He wants Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to retract his intentions to unilaterally declare a state in May and to accept Israel's terms for the release of Palestinian prisoners.
Under the Wye River peace deal, Israel promised to release 750 prisoners by the end of January. But most of the 250 freed last month were criminals.
The Palestinians say they should be prisoners held for anti-Israeli activities. In a nod to Mr Clinton's visit, Palestinian convicts will suspend their week-long hunger strike to lower tensions.
But Israel is still warning of a two-week delay to their troop withdrawal saying that the Palestinian Authority had not made enough progress in collecting weapons and reducing the size of its police force.