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Israel Calls Off Peres-Arafat Meeting - 2001-09-23

Israel has called off a meeting between Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, giving continued Palestinian attacks against Israeli targets as the reason.

The meeting between Mr. Arafat and Mr. Peres was scheduled for Sunday afternoon at the international airport in Gaza and was to focus on establishing an Israeli-Palestinian truce. But during the weekly Israeli cabinet meeting Sunday morning, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said the talks would not take place.

Zalman Shoval is a former Israeli Ambassador to the United States and is now a political advisor to Prime Minister Sharon. He told VOA the truce talks have not been canceled, only postponed. He said gun battles and a mortar attack on a Jewish settlement in Gaza over the past few days led to that decision. He also specifically cited the recent killing of an Israeli woman.

"Just a few days ago a mother of three was brutally murdered by people of the Fatah organization, that means Yasser Arafat's own organization and we know who the perpetrator was," he said. "The name was given to the Palestinian Authority but they refused to put him under arrest. So, the Prime Minister correctly thought this was not the right climate to start peace talks. And, therefore it was postponed. Hopefully, we shall see a few days of quiet, a few days of ending the violence and then the meeting can go ahead."

Mr. Shoval said the postponement of Sunday's talks still gives the Palestinians a chance to comply with Israel's basic demand of no violence for 48 hours.

Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo responded angrily to the last-minute cancellation, referring to the Sharon government as a "gang," not a responsible government of a state.

"It has shown that it is a government that seeks a continuation of the war against the Palestinian people and not to sit at the table for negotiations," he said.

Palestinian officials say they are doing the best they can to halt the violence and they say truce talks are the best first step to ensure an end to violent attacks. They also accuse Israel of using every violent incident as an excuse for postponing negotiations.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said he spoke with Prime Minister Sharon early Sunday and he said Mr. Sharon assured him Israel wants to go ahead with truce talks. Mr. Powell said he hopes the talks will be rescheduled in the "near future." He also urged both sides to create a climate more conducive for holding the talks, by bringing down the violence.

More than 800 people, mostly Palestinians, have been killed in the past year of almost daily unrest. Attempts to establish a truce and return to the negotiating table have so far failed. While the violence has subsided dramatically in the past few days, it has not stopped completely.

The September 11 terrorist attacks against New York and Washington have created a different international climate. As President Bush seeks Arab support for his worldwide coalition to fight terrorism, pressure has increased on both Israel and the Palestinians to proceed with truce talks as a first step toward resuming peace negotiations.