JERUSALEM -- A tense quiet settled over the West Bank and Gaza Strip yesterday as the Palestinian police sought to prevent new fighting and U.S. mediators pursued intensive efforts to arrange a meeting between the leaders of Israel and the Palestinians.
For the moment, both sides were reported locked over whether the meeting should just be between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Yasser Arafat, as Israel wanted, or also with Egyptian and U.S. participation, as the Palestinians insisted.
Several clashes between Palestinian youths and Israeli soldiers were reported, but they were not comparable in scope or bloodshed to the gunbattles that have flared over the past three days, killing 54 Palestinians and 14 Israelis.
In Ramallah in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip, scenes of some of the bloodiest melees, the Palestinian police, some of whom were shooting at Israeli soldiers last week, prevented throngs of youths from marching on Israeli posts and settlements.
The Israeli chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, said that the situation remained "very unstable," and "liable to flare up at any moment."
He warned that two militant Islamic organizations, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, could launch terror attacks.
The Israeli army announced a series of harsh measures to suppress any new onslaughts by the Palestinians.
They included a full ban on movement by Palestinians among their towns and cities and the deployment of tanks and helicopters throughout the West Bank and along the "green line" separating Israel from Palestinian and occupied areas. Soldiers were ordered to fire back if they were fired on.
Another Israeli officer, Maj. Gen. Uzi Dayan, warned that if violence increased, Israel would send troops into areas controlled by the Palestinian authority of Arafat.
The authority issued an "urgent appeal" to foreign diplomats to intervene against what it termed a "full siege." Similar restrictions on Palestinian movements, albeit without the use of tanks, were imposed after a series of bus bombings last winter.
But attention also focused on efforts by the United States to arrange peace talks between Netanyahu and Arafat. U.S. diplomats in Israel were in constant contact with both sides, and Secretary of State Warren Christopher and his top Mideast coordinator, Dennis Ross, were said to have held many telephone conversations.
The major hurdle was the composition and locale of the meeting. Diplomats said Arafat insisted that the meeting include Egyptian and possibly American and French participants and that it be held in Cairo, Egypt, or Washington. His reason was to bring international pressures on Netanyahu to take concrete steps to revive stalled peace negotiations. The Palestinians evidently feared that a meeting with Netanyahu alone would yield only a public handshake and mutual recriminations.
Arafat reportedly wanted Netanyahu to announce some
immediate measure, such as reclosing the entrance to an archaeological tunnel near the Temple Mount in Jerusalem whose opening by the Israelis on Tuesday sparked the rioting or setting a concrete date for partial withdrawal from the West Bank city of Hebron.
One of Arafat's aides, Nabil Abu Rdainah, said: "Our demands are clear. We want them to close the tunnel, put the peace process back on track and immediately implement the Oslo accords," meaning the Israeli-Palestinian agreements.
But at a news conference Friday, Netanyahu showed no intention of closing the tunnel or of taking any other conciliatory step, which he believed would be seen as surrender to violent pressure. He put the entire blame for the violence on Arafat, whom he accused of "cynical manipulation" of the tunnel entrance to put pressure on Israel.
The entrance was closed for the second day yesterday, but officials insisted that those were the normal days off at the archaeological site and that the gate would be reopened today.
Netanyahu was reportedly pressing for an immediate meeting with Arafat at Erez, just outside Gaza, where the two held their first meeting earlier this month. That would enable the prime minister to demonstrate that he was searching for ways to end the violence, but without the added pressure to take concrete steps that an Egyptian or U.S. presence would place on him.
Western diplomats were exploring various compromises, including an immediate meeting between Arafat and Netanyahu, followed quickly by a broader summit in Cairo, with President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, or in Washington, with President Clinton. No immediate word was available on how the proposal was being received.
Throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the battlefields of the last three days were quiet. Palestinian schools opened yesterday, taking many youths off the streets, and the Palestinian police turned from shooting at Israelis to enforcing Arafat's orders against any further violence.
In one incident, Palestinians rushed to help injured Israeli soldiers when their jeep overturned while rushing to some disorder near Jerusalem.
The Palestinians gave first aid and summoned an ambulance.
In Gaza, Palestinian militiamen with bullhorns turned back groups of would-be demonstrators. "Go back, you should be ashamed of yourselves," one policeman yelled. In Ramallah, police in full riot gear held back a throng of rock-pelting youths from charging the Israeli blockade that had been the focus of earlier fighting.
But tensions remained palpable. Palestinians seethed at the new restrictions on their movement, at Netanyahu's belligerent stance at his news conference, and over the Israeli assault on Palestinians gathered at Al Aqsa Mosque on Friday after some youths threw rocks.
A statement issued by the Palestinian authority accused Netanyahu of "a total lack of understanding of the realities on the ground."
Pub Date: 9/29/96