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U.S. DIPLOMAT FAILS TO FORGE MIDEAST PEACE AGREEMENT.

Byline: Serge Schmemann The New York Times

An American mediator failed again Thursday to conclude a long-delayed agreement on a partial Israeli pullback in Hebron as it became increasingly evident that the Palestinians were digging in on their insistence for deadlines and guarantees for the further withdrawal of Israeli forces in the West Bank.

After a nine-hour meeting Wednesday night between senior Israeli and Palestinian officials, and another long meeting Thursday between the American envoy, Dennis Ross, and the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, a deal was not yet in hand.

With today a Muslim day off and Saturday a Jewish holy day, the earliest a meeting between Arafat and the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, could now take place was Saturday evening.

There was no official statement from any side, but the growing question was whether Ross, whose return to the region Dec. 21 raised anticipation of an imminent agreement, would remain if the negotiations stalled again. Ross abandoned an earlier mediating effort in October when it became evident that the two sides were not prepared to deal.

There was speculation that Arafat's stance might have been toughened by Wednesday's shooting incident in Hebron, in which an Israeli soldier with a history of mental problems opened fire on Arabs in a crowded market with the explicit intention of blocking the Hebron deal. Six Arabs were wounded.

The Israeli police said Thursday they had detained a second soldier who allegedly knew of Pvt. Noam Friedman's intention to open fire on Palestinians but failed to report them. There was no immediate indication that the other soldier, Pvt. Yuval Jibli, 21, was otherwise involved in the shooting.

A judge approved the detention of Jibli for only four days, a sign that the court was not convinced by the preliminary evidence.

Friedman, 22, an Orthodox Jew from the West Bank settlement of Maale Adumim who was doing his military service in an administrative unit, was remanded in custody for 10 days. Brought to court Thursday in the town of Petah Tikva, he expressed regret that he failed to kill any Arabs and complained at being brought before a ``secular court'' and a female judge. He also repeated his claim that he acted to prevent the ``surrender'' of Hebron.

The major debate in the aftermath of the shooting was over Friedman's history of mental problems, and the questions that it raised about his fitness for military service. The Israeli army said it has opened an investigation into the circumstances surrounding Friedman's induction.

A deeper question was over the troubling history of violence by religious nationalists bent on destroying the peace with the Palestinians. Yigal Amir, the assassin of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, and Baruch Goldstein, who killed 29 Arabs at prayer in Hebron in 1994, were both Orthodox Jews whose beliefs drove them to try to sabotage the peace agreements.

Religious leaders declared that Friedman was delusional. But Yasser Abed Rabbo, the Palestinian minister of information, raised a question that was on many minds when he told Al Ayyam newspaper: ``If these claims that the settler is psychologically ill, which is something that is repeated every time there is a criminal act against Palestinians, are true, why do they insist on arming these psychological patients?''

In the immediate aftermath of the shooting incident, the main reaction among Israelis and Palestinians alike was relief that both Netanyahu and Arafat acted swiftly to prevent a broader explosion.

Nahum Barnea, a commentator for the Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot who has been sharply critical of Netanyahu over the past seven months, this time gave credit to both Arafat and Netanyahu.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jan 3, 1997
Words:603
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