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Crisis in the Middle East: International VIPs Trying to Stitch Together Truce Between Israelis and Palestinians

Aired October 16, 2000 - 2:00 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: What a contrast. Outside Egypt's Red Sea playground of Sharm El-Sheihk, tourists run about in frivolity. Inside, an emergency Middle East Summit, the cold, somber reality of a region at the brink of war. A team of international VIPs, including the president, Bill Clinton, is trying to stitch together a truce between the Israelis and Palestinians.

Failure, according to some at the talks, could cause "all hell to break lose."

Senior White House correspondent John King is at Sharm El-Sheikh with the president.

John, what do we know?

JOHN KING, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Nighttime here in Sharm El-Sheikh, Lou. We don't know if there's any progress. But we do know tonight some significant movement, even as we speak. President Clinton involved right now in what aides call some very critical meetings. He met with the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Barak, for a little more than an hour. Then Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was brought up to see the president, that meeting lasted 40 minutes. Then, after a quick update with his own Middle East peace team. The president immediately summoned Mr. Barak back, we are told, to discuss the proposed language of a cease-fire agreement that would end the 17 days of violence between the Israelis and the Palestinian that has left more than 100 dead, most of them Palestinians.

Now when you think of a summit, you think of a big meeting. all of the leaders getting together perhaps in one room. That's not the case here. The president of Egypt is here. The king of Jordan is here. The U.N. secretary-general is here.

But at the plenary session this morning, all those leaders, plus the Israeli prime minister, and the Palestinian leader, met for only a short time in the big session. All the negotiating being done, we are told, in private one-on-one sessions, some of them bitter, we're also told.

Now Mr. Clinton goal's here: They are three: a cease-fire agreement, agreement on some form of a fact finding inquiry to look into the root causes of this violence, and he hopes to resume the peace negotiations. Now, some here say that that is too optimistic, that there is too much anger to bring the Israelis and the Palestinians back to peace talks right now. Mr. Clinton, in his opening statement this morning, told the leaders to consider the alternative.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The future of the peoples involved here, the future of the peace process, and the stability of the region are at stake. We cannot afford to fail here. In order to succeed, though, once again, we have a situation piled high with grievance, we have got to move beyond blame. We have got to focus on what we are going to do tomorrow and the next day and the next day.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: One senior aide to the president telling CNN just a few moments ago, we are entering the gut check phase, to see if these two men, Mr. Barak and Mr. Arafat, are willing to make the concessions necessary to get a cease-fire agreement acceptable to both sides. The president supposed to leave here in just a few hours. Aides say he will extend his stay, perhaps by an additional 12 hours, if he believes it would help bring an end to the bloodshed.

John King, CNN, reporting live from Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt.

WATERS: And while those leaders sat down in Egypt, Palestinians marched in the West Bank and Gaza again today. The toll: one Palestinian policeman killed; 40 injuries, nearly all of the injuries Palestinian. Clashes broke out almost simultaneously with word that the summit in Egypt had gotten under way. Most of the confrontations involved stone-throwing. But Palestinian militias got into a gunbattle with Israeli soldiers in one community. A 14-year-old Palestinian boy was shot in the head. He's now on life support.

In Gaza, Palestinian protesters used a funeral procession to urge Yasser Arafat to abandon the summit. The crowd insisted the only point of the meeting was to undermine support for the Palestinians. Both Palestinians and Jews are watching this Egyptian summit, wondering how the outcome will impact their daily lives.

Here's CNN's Jerrold Kessel in Ramallah.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JERROLD KESSEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): So very tranquil the morning at Numan Dayem's modest home, a house all on its own on the outskirts of the West Bank town of Ramallah. An atmosphere this morning in stark contrast to what's gone on around here during the past 2 1/2 weeks in the thick of daily battles between Palestinian demonstrators and Israeli troops. Still Noman Dayem is most skeptical about the Sharm el-Sheikh summit.

NUMAN DAYEM: All the Arab world and Islamic world, they don't want this summit to be held. I think U.S.A. pressed on our leaders to make to held this summit.

KESSEL (on camera): You think it was a mistake.

DAYEM: It is very mistake. It is very mistake. But he -- what he can do?

KESSEL (voice-over): The retired teacher says there is a lopsided perception of the hostilities.

DAYEM: What's a cease-fire? Small children, guns machines, helicopters.

KESSEL: Numan's wife serves coffee. Numan tells us does he expect anything long-term good to emerge in the wake of this round of Palestinian-Israeli battles.

DAYEM: It's the beginning of big problems when we face in the future. You know, here we have as our -- as Arabs, we believe that this land is ours. The settlements here, it will be as a bomb, and it will be fire in any time.

KESSEL: Just over the hill, one of those settlements, Bet-El, where sentiments run equally strong, stronger even.

"It has been the same in every generation," says this man. "Someone tries to destroy the Jewish people and the world says: We are to blame. Noting has changed."

Morning prayer time, special prayers in celebration of the Jewish festival of Sukkot, remembering the desert wanderings of the biblical children of Israel.

Ironicall, because the outlook for agreement at the summit is so bleak, the feeling here is that could actually be a good thing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The summit will show the world and what's most important the nation of Israel, who are we dealing with, by showing the fact that Arafat never left the idea of violence, never left the idea of terrorism.

KESSEL: Though the settlers here now feel most Israelis have come round to their view of relations with their Palestinian neighbors, there are still residual worries.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This fighting was a good thing. It would be concerned is, as a result of the cease-fire, Barak would go back to the same type of policies that would lead to the transfers of 95 percent of Judea and Sumaria to a terrorist organization.

KESSEL: But after the funeral of a 30-year-old Palestinian who died of wounds sustained in an earlier clash, at the same friction point, beyond the confrontation of words and attitudes and irrespective of what happens at the Sharm meeting, which has just got underway, here renewed confrontation with stones and rifles.

And including a two-way shootout. (on camera): By dusk, the fierce clash seemed to have petered out despite the quiet, the question: What after the summit? Precious few people who live in the vicinity believe that permanent calm can easily be restored here.

Jerrold Kessel, CNN, Ramallah.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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