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MIdeast Violence Erupts on Eve of Arab Summit - 2003-06-02

New violence between Israelis and Palestinians erupts on the eve of an Arab summit, aimed at pushing the Middle East peace process forward. Amy Katz has our report.

Clashes broke out in Ramallah Monday as the Israeli army drove through the West Bank town imposing a curfew. Palestinians threw stones at Israeli vehicles patrolling the streets. The Israelis responded with gunfire.

Israel had declared the area a closed military zone in the wake of heightened alerts of possible attacks. The renewed violence came just two days before a planned summit between U.S. President George W. Bush and the Israeli and Palestinian Prime Ministers to discuss a new Middle East peace plan – known as the “road map.” President Bush left a summit of the Group of Eight industrialized nations in France Monday, to travel to the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh for an Arab summit on Tuesday.

At a joint news conference with French President Jacques Chirac before he left France, President Bush said he and his administration, in his words, will “put in as much time as necessary” to achieve peace between the Israelis and Palestinians.

“I know we won’t make progress unless people assume their responsibilities. First message is I will dedicate the time and energy to move the process forward and I think we will make some progress. I know we’re making progress.”

On a visit to Rome Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said he is optimistic the Israeli-Palestinian summit will end on a positive note.

He also reacted to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s statement about “occupation” of Palestinian areas, calling it positive.

“I think it shows that he recognizes that whichever interpretation you put on it, the occupation of particular cities or a territory, it is a situation that is unsustainable over time.”

Over the weekend, Israel eased restrictions on Palestinians in advance of the Wednesday summit.

For fishermen who work off the Gaza Coast that meant being able to take their longest trips in months. And for thousands of Palestinians that meant being allowed to return to work in Israel, some of them for the first time in more than a month.