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Shootings in Jordan strain peace process

Tension heightened by string of violent events

March 14, 1997
Web posted at: 10:30 p.m. EST (0330 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- When a Jordanian soldier opened fire on a group of Israeli schoolgirls this week, it was graphic evidence that the Arab-Israeli peace process had reached another dangerous straining point.

The election last year of a harder-line Israeli government, in the person of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has created an atmosphere of charge and counter-charge. Some observers in the Middle East believe the latest violence is the bitter fruit of that atmosphere.

In the days before Thursday's massacre of seven girls, Jordan's King Hussein sent Netanyahu a letter contemplating that very possibility. The king had no idea how soon his fears would become a painful reality.

"When I warned a couple of days ago of what I perceived as danger of the possibility of violence, I never thought it would break this way," Hussein said just after the shooting.


String of incidents began with bombings

It was a year ago that Mideast peace talks were brought to a virtual halt by a series of suicide bombings aimed at Israelis in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. That was the first in a string of incidents that have bred anger and mistrust on both sides.

Israel's opening of an archaeological tunnel in Jerusalem sparked clashes with Palestinians. The refusal of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to visit Israel created resentment among Israelis.

Now, the government of Israel wants to build housing for Jewish settlers in Arab East Jerusalem, which Palestinians see as a "preemptive strike" against their aspirations for a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as the capital.

Peace 'comes from the heart,' Netanyahu says

Less than three months ago, an Israeli soldier opened fire on Palestinians in Hebron. Now, a Jordanian soldier has opened fire on Israeli youngsters.

"It is difficult for us to see a happy future if the new generation of Arabs is fed a diet of hostility, if it is taught not to accept us as legitimate neighbors," Netanyahu said during a visit to Washington in February. "True peace comes from the heart and, more precisely, it comes from the change of heart."


Arab leaders say that sentiment must cut both ways. But despite the strains, both sides seemed resigned to sticking with negotiations. The chance of war has been dramatically reduced by six years of plodding negotiation, by new treaties and by the interest of both sides in staying on good terms with the United States.

"We have no other alternatives," said Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat. "In spite of all the difficulties which we are facing, we have one alternative -- to carry on with the peace process."

Correspondent Ralph Begleiter contributed to this report.


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