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A Little Bit of Hope

Mideast Security Chiefs Meet; Clashes but No Deaths

J E R U S A L E M, Oct. 25 - Israeli and Palestinian troop commanders met
at U.S. insistence today to try to pave the way for a truce, as the West
Bank and Gaza experienced a relative calm.
There were sporadic exchanges of gunfire, but no one was killed in
clashes for the first time in a week.
Palestinian Maj. Gen. Abdel-Razek al-Majaydeh met today with Israeli
Maj. Gen. Yom-Tov Samia, chief of Israel's southern command, with the aim
of "lowering significantly the level of friction and violence."
They reportedly met in the presence of U.S. officials.
The Israeli army also said the chief of its central command, who
oversees the military in the West Bank, had begun a meeting with his
Palestinian counterpart.
Similar talks have been held several times since clashes erupted on
Sept. 28, but a senior Israeli official said today's meeting was the first
in about two weeks.
President Clinton has raised the possibility of holding separate
meetings in Washington with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat if a truce he brokered last week at a
summit in Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt finally takes effect.
Speaking at a New York fundraiser and 53rd birthday celebration for
his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, tonight, the president says the United
States will continue to stand by Israel.
Clinton said dealing with the Middle East problem "takes about half
of every day I have now, and most of the nights."

Israel has said the Palestinian Authority has done little to quell
shooting attacks on Israeli positions. The Palestinians have complained
that Israel has not lifted its security closure of the Palestinian areas
and withdrawn troops from trouble spots.
In all, 128 people, the vast majority Palestinians, have been killed
in four weeks of Israeli-Palestinian fighting.
Clinton said today that neither Arafat nor Barak were completely in
control of the situation.
"I think the violence can be dramatically reduced. I think that there
are probably some people within the Palestinian territories and probably
some people within Israel that are not within total control of Chairman
Arafat or even the Israeli government," Clinton said.
"But I do think Chairman Arafat can dramatically reduce the level of
violence," he said.
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.
Barak has tried to bring the hawkish opposition into his government
to ensure his political survival before a hostile parliament convenes next
week. If he succeeds, a resumption of peace talks is unlikely.
Tensions Ease
Israel has said that if there were no new outbreaks of violence, it could
withdraw troops from friction points and then look into ways of resuming
peace talks. However, army officials were skeptical a cease-fire would
hold for long.
"We must wait a day or so to see if there is a real change," Maj.
Gen. Giora Eiland said. If calm prevailed, Israel would pull back forces
to previous positions, he said.
Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami said Israel could even
envision returning to peace talks.
"If, by some miracle the violence would stop, as a result of talks
Clinton had [Tuesday] with Arafat and Barak, mostly with Arafat then we
could talk about the best way to restart the peace talks within two
weeks," he said.
It was not clear whether Ben-Ami spoke for Barak. The Israeli prime
minister has said repeatedly he no longer considers Arafat a peace
partner.
Speaking before shooting began, the chief of operations in the
Israeli army said there had been a significant drop in violence over the
past day.
Heavy rains over the West Bank, which brought three inches in 24
hours, were credited with the lull, but clashes continued in the Gaza
Strip where conditions were drier.
After nightfall today, Palestinian gunmen fired at Israeli targets
from several locations. Shots were fired from the West Bank at the Jewish
neighborhood of Gilo on the southern edge of Jerusalem. For the third day
in a row, the army responded with tank fire.
The leader of Arafat's Fatah movement in the West Bank, Marwan
Barghouti, said the uprising would continue. Barghouti said Wednesday's
lull was not due to the rainy weather, but a result of instructions by the
uprising leadership that activists take time off to help farmers harvest
olives.
On Friday, the Muslim Sabbath, large-scale protests would resume, he
said.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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