Envoys struggle to save Mideast truce


JERUSALEM, Reuters

U.S. and European envoys were meeting Israeli leaders on Friday as the world community rallied to bolster a fragile Israeli Palestinian truce and end nearly nine months of bloodshed in which at least 590 have died.

The Israeli army, meanwhile, said an explosive device went off near the Jewish settlement of Dugit in the northern Gaza Strip. Israel Radio reported that two soldiers who went to check a suspicious vehicle were badly wounded in the blast.

Palestinian medical sources said three Palestinian civilians were wounded by tank fire, also near Dugit. An army spokeswoman said the military was checking the report.

At least 461 Palestinians, 116 Israelis and 13 Israeli Arabs have been killed since late September when Palestinians erupted in revolt against Israeli occupation after peace talks stalled.

On the diplomatic front, just one week after U.N. chief Kofi Annan visited the region, European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana and U.S. special envoy William Burns held separate talks in Jerusalem with Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres.

They were both due to meet Palestinian President Yasser Arafat later to discuss the state of the truce, brokered on June 13 by U.S. CIA director George Tenet and still just holding.

Solana was also set for talks later on Friday with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Sharon’s office, meanwhile, said he would stop in Britain on Sunday for talks with Prime Minister Tony Blair on his way to Washington and consultations with President George Bush.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell was himself due in the Middle East in mid-week for talks with the various parties.

The United Nations appealed for $77 million in emergency aid to provide food, medicines and work for more than 200,000 Palestinian refugee families in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

On the ground, tensions remained near boiling point after the killings of six Palestinians and four Jewish settlers over the past nine days. Each side accuses the other of massive and systematic breaches of the ceasefire.