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US Envoy to Again Discuss Mideast Cease-Fire - 2002-03-25


U.S. Middle East envoy Anthony Zinni is scheduled to meet again Monday with Israeli and Palestinian security officials to discuss a ceasefire in an effort to end nearly 18 months of violence.

Mr. Zinni has presented both sides with what is being described as a compromise proposal based on negotiations on implementing a truce first presented last year by the director of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency George Tenet.

Details of Mr. Zinni's proposal were not released.

The Israelis have been insisting that the Palestinians must crack down on groups involved in the fighting, stop terror attacks and arrest militants as the first steps of a ceasefire.

The Palestinians are demanding that Israel pull its tanks and troops back to positions held before the violence erupted in September 2000, and that they remove roadblocks and a closure that have crippled travel and trade in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Israel says if a ceasefire is reached, it will allow Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to attend an Arab summit later this week in Beirut.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is expected to discuss the current travel ban on Mr. Arafat with top government officials. Israel has refused to allow the Palestinian chairman to leave the territories since last December.

Mr. Arafat is reportedly seeking assurances that if he attends the summit, Israel will allow him to return to the West Bank. Mr. Sharon has suggested he may not allow Mr. Arafat to return if the violence continues or if the Palestinian leader makes an inflammatory speech at the summit.

Arab leaders are scheduled to discuss a proposal by Saudi Arabia that offers an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict, if Israel withdraws from territories it captured in the 1967 Middle East war.

In new violence Monday, Palestinians say a man was killed when Israeli forces entered the Rafah refugee camp in the Gaza Strip near the border with Egypt. The Israeli military says soldiers were looking for tunnels used for smuggling weapons across the border and returned fire when Palestinians attacked with a bomb, grenades and gunfire.

Meanwhile, The Washington Post is reporting that the Israeli army is preparing for a "comprehensive military confrontation" with the Palestinians if current cease-fire talks fail to halt the bloodshed.

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