U.S. envoys in Middle East truce talks amid sporadic violence

RAMALLAH, West Bank, Reuters

CIA chief George Tenet met Egypt’s president while a new U.S. regional envoy held talks with Palestinians on Saturday as part of an international drive to bolster a fragile Israeli-Palestinian truce.

The shaky cease-fire entered its second week, punctuated by sporadic violence as Palestinians continued to protest against Israel’s occupation and blockades in Gaza and the West Bank.

The Israeli army said Palestinians fired seven mortar bombs at the Gush Katif settlement block in the Gaza Strip, lightly injuring a Thai worker and damaging one building.

Near the West Bank city of Ramallah, three Palestinians were injured when Israeli troops fired rubber bullets to disperse hundreds of students and professors from Bir Zeit University who were protesting against the blockade, hospital sources said.

An army spokeswoman said soldiers had used “crowd dispersal methods” such as tear gas and rubber-coated metal bullets.

“The strong capability of our students and our people everywhere will achieve our goals, sooner or later,” Palestinian President Yasser Arafat said in Ramallah.

In the village of Ya’bad near Jenin, settlers attacked Palestinian farmer Mohammed Torkman, 20, breaking his jaw and hand near a site where a Palestinian killed a settler last week, Torkman’s parents said. They said their son was now in hospital.

Israeli police said they were checking the report.

There were also reports, denied by Israel, of minor clashes between Palestinian stone-throwers and Israeli soldiers near al-Khader village, close to Bethlehem.

Against this backdrop, CIA chief Tenet and Assistant Secretary of State William Burns continued a dual U.S. approach to cement the truce, pledged by Arafat last Saturday after a suicide bombing which killed 21 people in Tel Aviv. Israel had called its own limited ceasefire in late May.

After bringing Israeli and Palestinian security officials together in a rare meeting on Friday, Tenet flew to Cairo where he held talks lasting 45 minutes with President Hosni Mubarak.