U.S. mediators arrive, hope to quell violence

Tuesday, November 27, 2001

JERUSALEM -- Two U.S. mediators arrived Monday to try to stop more than a year of Israeli-Palestinian fighting, and an Islamic militant blew himself up at an Israeli checkpoint in Gaza.

Assistant Secretary of State William Burns and retired Marine Corps Gen. Anthony Zinni are seeking to nudge the two sides toward implementing a cease-fire and restarting peace talks -- calming the Mideast conflict as the United States and its allies concentrate on the war against terrorism.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat "has to make a strategic decision to abandon the path of terrorism," according to a statement from his office.

Sharon renewed a demand for seven days of "absolute quiet" -- no attacks on Israelis -- before moving ahead with a truce deal negotiated by CIA chief George Tenet in May.

The Palestinians say the demand allows any extremist to scuttle the process and amounts to a ploy to avoid negotiations. U.S. officials have said privately they do not accept the Israeli stand but haven't confronted Israel publicly.

Sharon appointed Meir Dagan to head his negotiating team. Dagan, a counterterrorism expert, has often doubted publicly whether Arafat wants to make peace with Israel.

The Palestinians chose Parliament Speaker Ahmed Qureia, a veteran negotiator, to head their team.

Just hours earlier, a Palestinian approached an Israeli military checkpoint at the Erez crossing between Gaza and Israel and set off explosives, killing himself and wounding two Israeli border policemen.

Palestinians identified the attacker as Teissir al-Ajami, 22, a laborer at a nearby industrial park, one of the last areas where Palestinians and Israelis work together. He was a member of the militant Hamas group, Palestinians said.

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