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Israeli and Palestinian Leaders Agree To Summit

Middle East leaders have agreed to meet Monday in Egypt to discuss ending the escalating violence, but while Palestinians are calling for an international commission of inquiry to probe its cause, Israel says no. John Howard reports.

A commission of inquiry, which the Palestinians want set up to probe the causes of the flare-up of violence that has killed over 100 people, has been sharply rejected by Israel.

"We are not coming to Sharm el-Sheikh ( a Red Sea resort in Egypt) in order to form an international committee, that's for sure," Israeli Government spokesman Nacham Shai said.

US President Bill Clinton, who will also attend the summit, said the central objective would be to stop the violence and agree "on a fact-finding mechanism concerning how this begun and how it can be prevented from happening again, and find a way back to dialogue and negotiations."

Israel, however, has made a distinction between "fact-finding" and an "inquiry."

Clinton mentioned "fact-finding, and not inquiry, we're absolutely against any international inquiry," said Shai. "A fact-finding body or mechanism - it's something quite different."

Israel also wants to limit international participation in any such committee.

"We welcome the Americans to be part of it. But apart from them, we're not interested, with all due respect, to see anyone from outside come in and judge what we are doing here in the region," Shai said.

Clinton has also played down the prospects or an agreement. "We should be under no illusions. The good news is the parties have agreed to meet and the situation appears to be calmer, but the path ahead is difficult. The situation is still quite tense."

The Israeli spokesman said that even if Monday's summit succeeds, Prime Minister Ehud Barak will still go ahead with the formation of a national unity government with the right-wing opposition Likud party of Ariel Sharon - a hate figure for Palestinians.

Sharon is widely being blamed by the Palestinians for starting the violence when, supported by Israel's security forces, he provocatively marched to Temple Mount, a holy site for both Jews and Arabs, and made what the Palestinians considered to be highly inflammatory statements.

Temple Mount is the original site of the ancient Jewish Temple and is their holiest site, while it is known to Arabs as Haram as-Sharif (noble sanctuary), from where it is believed the Prophet Mohammed ascended into heaven.

It is this site which strikes at the very heart of the Middle East spiritual problem.

Meanwhile, many Palestinians on the West Bank and Gaza streets oppose Monday's summit and want the intefada (uprising) to continue, arguing that only Israel stands to gain.

"Now the Americans are only interested because they see their interests are in danger and that our intefada is becoming a world intefada. Why are Americans still giving Israel a million dollars a day?" they say.

"Both presidential candidates Gore and Bush promised in their recent televised debates that they will continue to support Israel," said Diab a clothing worker in Gaza.

The Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) has also denounced Monday's summit and called on its supporters to continue the jihad (holy war).

Many Arabs now believe that PLO leader, Yassar Arafat, is not leading, but is being led, and no longer has control of the Palestinians.


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