Israel planned talks with the Palestinians on Wednesday on stemming violence and the White House signalled that President Clinton might invite leaders of the two warring sides to Washington.
“Meetings are expected during the day between the chiefs of the central and southern commands and their Palestinian counterparts with the aim of lowering significantly the level of friction and violence in the field,” the Israeli army said.
But Abdel-Razek al-Majaydeh, a top Palestinian security official, said: “So far there are no plans for a meeting.”
Israeli Majors-General Yitzhak Eitan and Yom-Tov Samia have met Palestinian security chiefs several times since the violence erupted on September 28, but a senior Israeli official said Wednesday’s talks would be the first in about two weeks.
“There is a U.S. effort to calm the situation and this has brought about the willingness by the Palestinians to attend a meeting with us,” said Major-General Giora Eiland, the army’s chief of operations.
The army announced plans for the meeting after news that Clinton might meet Palestinian President Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak separately if a truce he brokered last week at a summit in Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt finally takes effect.
In Washington, P.J. Crowley, spokesman for the White House National Security Council, said Clinton spoke by telephone with Arafat for 30 minutes on Tuesday. Another U.S. official said Clinton also called Barak.
“The president raised the possibility of the leaders coming here to Washington,” Crowley said, adding that Arafat and Barak would “come separately”.
The meetings would be held “within the context of seeing progress on full implementation of Sharm”, he said.
An Israeli diplomatic source said Barak had told Clinton by telephone that he would agree to a meeting only if Arafat took steps to curb the fighting.
The chief of staff of Barak’s office, Gilead Sher, said tensions seemed to have started to ease in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and Israel would remove its forces from the outskirts of Palestinian towns if the trend continued.
“If it continues to be calm, and by the way, since last night there’s a feeling things have calmed down on the Palestinian side … we will do our part and withdraw our forces according to the Sharm understandings,” he told Israel Radio.
At least 131 people, all but eight of them Arabs, have been killed in the violence.
Barak dispatched a top security aide to meet Arafat and Mohammed Dahlan, the preventive security chief in Gaza, late on Tuesday to ask the Palestinian leader to halt the violence, an Israeli source said.