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Crisis in the Middle East: Barak Expresses Regret Over Egypt's Ambassador Recall; Clinton Urges Sides to Remain Engaged in Peace Process

Aired November 21, 2000 - 2:27 p.m. ET

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

JOIE CHEN, CNN ANCHOR: The Clinton administration is urging all sides in the Middle East to remain, in his words, "engaged" in the peace process. This after a player in the talks is called home following an escalation in the violence between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

We get the latest now from CNN's Jerrold Kessel in Jerusalem.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JERROLD KESSEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The aftermath of Israel's retaliatory missile strike at select targets in Gaza, an attack which has prompted Egypt to recall its Tel Aviv ambassador, Mohammed Bassiouni, a protest against what Cairo calls Israel's escalated aggression. It's not clear how long the ambassador will be kept away.

Taken aback, Israel's prime minister expressed regret that this could hamper Egypt's role as a mediator.

EHUD BARAK, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: Egypt contributed a lot to the peace process and has a role in it all along the way. But, you know, we can just hope that in a certain time he will come back.

KESSEL: The Israeli prime minister was visiting Israeli troops near the area where, the day before, a bus taking Jewish settler children to school was bombed. Two settlers were killed, nine wounded, mostly children, in the attack which prompted Israel's airstrike on Gaza.

Even as Mr. Barak was speaking, not far away, another Israeli motorist shot and seriously wounded. Israel says he was ambushed by gunfire from a Palestinian police position.

Palestinians bury a member of their security forces killed in one clash, even as at least six more Palestinians were killed in a spate of fresh confrontations around the West Bank and Gaza.

In Gaza, Yasser Arafat visited the wounded from the Israeli airstrike.

AHMED ABDEL RAHMAN, PALESTINIAN CABINET SECRETARY: For us, I think it is the end of the peace process between the Palestinians and the Israelis. They want to destroy the (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

KESSEL: But Yasser Arafat is still committed to the peace process, says Mohammed Dahlan, one of the Palestinian leader's top security men. He added, "he has still a tiny, a very tiny hope for the peace process."

With either assessment, Palestinians say, the recall of the Egyptian ambassador reflects increasing concern in the entire region.

SAEB ERAKAT, CHIEF PALESTINIAN NEGOTIATOR: It's really a clear message that Mr. Barak cannot continue dancing in accordance with the rhythm of Israeli extremists because this Israeli government's action is really pushing Palestinians, Israelis and the Middle East region as a whole in the direction of darkness, in the direction of anarchy, chaos, violence and counterviolence.

KESSEL: Israeli officials dispute that.

ALON LIEL, ISRAELI FOREIGN MINISTRY: We have this violent conflict for eight weeks already, and there was no spillover. Not to Jordan, not to Lebanon, definitely not to Egypt. It's between us and the Palestinians.

KESSEL: But now Egypt's recall of its ambassador makes clear the dilemma Prime Minister Barak feels he faces.

(on camera): He is seeking to contain the Palestinian intifada forcefully, but in so doing his concern that that may further alienate Israel's other Arab neighbors and so risk the battles with the Palestinians being transformed into a region-wide conflict.

Jerrold Kessel, CNN, Jerusalem.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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