Barak leaves door open for Mideast summit to halt violence

Israeli Prime Minister Mr Ehud Barak told an extraordinary session of his cabinet that he did not rule out a summit to end the…

Israeli Prime Minister Mr Ehud Barak told an extraordinary session of his cabinet that he did not rule out a summit to end the violence raging in the Middle East, his office said early today.

"Barak said that he is not ruling out a summit which would put an end to the violence and create the right circumstances for the renewal of negotiations according to Clinton's proposal, but it is still unclear if such a summit will take place," the office said in a statement.

The White House said earlier that the necessary conditions for a summit between Mr Barak, US President Bill Clinton and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat were not yet in place.

The statement was issued after Mr Barak spoke at the cabinet meeting called to discuss options after the expiry of a deadline set by Israel for the Palestinians to call a halt to the violence or risk a collapse of the peace process.


"We called for an end to the violence but to our regret, Arafat, who is responsible for its oubreak, did not bring it to an end. No government can accept a continuation of this situation," Mr Barak said.

"We all want peace with the Palestinians but their leadership is currently not ripe to take such courageous decisions despite our far-reaching proposals," he added.

"We must guard our vital interests, and peace will arrive only when our neighbours recognise that every side has vital interests they cannot give up." An official present at the meeting, which was still going in the early hours of this morning, said some top security officials were calling for Israel to "act with force to stop the violence".

Almost 100 people, most of them Palestinians, have been killed in street battles between Israeli forces and Palestinian demonstrators.

Meanwhile US President Bill Clinton yesterday held off on a decision on whether to convene an emergency summit on the Middle East crisis after conferring with Middle East leaders.

US officials said the United States lacked the necessary signs that a visit to the region by Mr Clinton or Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to meet Israeli and Palestinian leaders would yield an agreement to stop the violence.

The official said Mr Clinton spoke by telephone with Mr Barak, Mr Arafat and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

It was still possible a decision could be made to hold a meeting of the leaders this week, the US official said.

The diplomatic efforts criss-crossed international telephone lines as violence between Israelis and Palestinians flared for a 12th day with fresh clashes in the West Bank.

Earlier, Ms Albright appealed for calm and told ABC's Good Morning America programme the US would mount a "full diplomatic press" to try to end the clashes.

A senior US official said there were signs that Israeli and Palestinian security officials were co-operating more closely with one another, but acknowledged that the US was troubled by the latest confrontations.

AFP adds:

A scooter-riding demonstrator caused red faces among Israeli security agents early this morning when he slipped through a tight cordon outside a the crucial cabinet meeting.

The barefoot man, draped in the blue-and-white Israeli flag, was wrestled to the ground by gun-toting members of the Shin Beth security service after he rode into the heavily-guarded defence ministry.

And only a few minutes later, a man claiming to be his brother caused another stir when he leapt over the fence at the ministry in Tel Aviv where Mr Barak was chairing the cabinet session.

Both were detained by the bewildered Shin Beth agents.