Palestinians Mark Ramadan With 'Day of Rage'
Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in Washington report some progress as they continue working toward a peace agreement, but in Israel, security forces prepared Friday for another Palestinian "Day of Rage."
The race for prime minister narrowed late Thursday as only two contenders submitted their candidacy by the midnight deadline. Labor's Ehud Barak will face off with Likud party Chairman Ariel Sharon, after a left-wing party chose not to back Oslo architect Shimon Peres.
Meretz decided against giving Peres the ten signatures he needs to run in the February 6 election, for fear of splitting the center-left vote and handing Sharon victory.
Jerusalem police beefed up their forces for Muslim prayers on the Temple Mount for the last Friday of Ramadan. For the past three months, Jerusalem's Old City has been the scene of violent clashes between police and worshippers leaving the mosques after Friday prayers.
For the second week in a row, police are limiting entrance to the Temple Mount to Arabs who are Israeli citizens, and those who are Jerusalem residents, over the age of 35.
Leaders of PA Chairman Yasser Arafat's Fatah faction, and other radical organizations called for the "Day of Rage" with large demonstrations on Friday.
"On the ground nothing has changed, the Israelis are still killing our people and the closure is still suffocating us," a West Bank Fatah leader Hussein al-Sheikh was quoted as saying. "We need to see actions on the ground," he added, rather than reports of progress in negotiations in the U.S.
For "security reasons," the Israeli army spokesman's office would not comment on any special preparations for the day.
When Palestinian leaders called for an earlier "Day of Rage" two weeks ago, three Israelis were killed when the vehicles they were traveling in came under fire from Palestinian gunmen. Six Palestinians were killed in clashes with Israeli forces.
An Israeli motorist and two Palestinians were killed on Thursday. Eli Cohen, 30, was killed when his car was raked with automatic gunfire as he drove along a road near Ramallah, just north of Jerusalem.
Two Palestinians, 26-year-old Rashid Barhoun and 18-year-old Ahem Mreish were reported killed in clashes with Israeli troops at the Karni crossing in the Gaza Strip on Thursday, although the Israeli army said it had not been involved in any fighting in that area.
Shooting attacks on Israeli civilians and soldiers in the disputed territories continued overnight.
'Israel Ready For Further Concessions'
In Washington, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators reported progress in talks aimed at quelling the uprising, in which more than 330 people have been killed, and reaching a permanent settlement.
The teams were scheduled to hold further talks with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright on Friday and then to meet with President Clinton on Saturday evening.
That meeting aims to determine if there is sufficient progress to warrant a summit between Barak and Arafat.
According to chief PA negotiator Yasser Abed Rabbo, Clinton would like to hold a summit by January 10, just 10 days before his term in office ends. Experts have said Clinton will not sponsor a summit unless he is assured of a signed agreement.
Media reports Friday suggest Israel is ready to make additional compromises on issues of Jerusalem and borders in exchange for Palestinian concessions on the right of return for so-called refugees.
Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami, who is heading the Israeli negotiating team, was quoted as saying that discussions are "the most radical, daring, difficult procedure ever."
"We are close to achieving recognition of Palestinian sovereignty over Arab East Jerusalem, including the holy sites," Palestinian negotiator Yasser Abed Rabbo said, then cautioned: "We may be very near to an agreement, or very far from one. It depends on the details."
Talks broke down at a U.S.-sponsored summit during the summer over the issue of Jerusalem and specifically the holy sites in the ancient, walled Old City. Israel reunited Jerusalem, including the Old City, during the 1967 Six-Day war, and declared Jerusalem its indivisible, eternal capital.
The PA is demanding that the eastern part of the city, formerly under Jordanian control, be incorporated as the capital of a Palestinian State.
Ben-Ami emphasized that Israel wants to maintain its special links to the Temple Mount, where two Jewish Temples were built in biblical times, but where two important mosques now stand.
David Baker, Barak's spokesman, would only confirm Friday that discussions were continuing but would not reveal the content of the talks. He added that there was "a lot of unfounded speculation going around" in the media.