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Clinton urges Mideast leaders to 'do what they agreed to do'
From White House Correspondent Kathleen Koch
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. President Bill Clinton, saying "the status quo" cannot be maintained, called on Israeli and Palestinian leaders Wednesday to "do what they agreed to do" in Egypt and reduce violence in the Middle East.
Clinton was waiting for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat to respond to his offer to meet with them separately in Washington in an effort to get the peace talks going again.
While the president waited, clashes between Palestinians and Israeli soldiers again erupted, this time in Gaza. Nearly a month of violence has killed at least 139 people, almost all Palestinians.
Speaking to reporters outside the White House on Wednesday, Clinton said the peace process could not go much further under the present circumstances.
"We can't expect there to be a reliable peace process until we reduce the violence," he said.
He said both the Israelis and the Palestinians had agreed to an undisclosed set of security measures at the October 16 emergency summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, aimed at doing that.
Talks would take place soon
The president spoke with Barak for about 30 minutes Tuesday night about the possibility of coming to Washington, after discussing the same idea with Arafat in the afternoon.
The White House indicated that the proposal fell short of a formal invitation.
Neither Barak nor Arafat had made a firm commitment to attend, said officials, but both were said to have welcomed the idea.
If Barak and Arafat agree to the talks, they would take place in Washington in the next few weeks. But a senior White House official told CNN they are "contingent on making some progress on the ground there. Frankly, we haven't seen that yet."
Immediately following the summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, Israelis and Palestinians took some steps toward implementing the agreement. For instance, the Israelis re-opened the airport in Gaza, and the Palestinian Authority released a statement calling for an end to the violence.
Arafat can do more, Clinton says
But the situation in the region has deteriorated since then as violence has flared and both sides have taken steps away from the Sharm el-Sheikh agreement.
Asked if he thought Arafat is capable of reducing the violence -- a major contention of the Israelis -- Clinton said he believed the Palestinian leader could "dramatically reduce" it.
The president conceded that neither Arafat nor the Israeli government can totally control all of their constituencies, but add that the question is not whether Arafat has "100 percent control."
"The real and fundamental question is can the level of violence be substantially reduced by a sustained effort if the parties do what they agreed to do at Sharm," Clinton said. "The answer to that is a resounding yes."
Palestinians blame Israelis
The Palestinians blame Israel for the violence, however, and charge that Israeli soldiers have used extreme measures to quell the violence, which erupted on September 28 when Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon -- a hard-liner who opposes land for peace deals with the Palestinians -- visited a controversial shrine in east Jerusalem.
The Palestinians, in their quest for independence, have declared east Jerusalem will be their capital, a move adamantly opposed by the Israelis, who insist that the ancient city remain an undivided Israeli city.
At issue is control of a number of religious shrines, sacred to both Islam and Judaism, in east Jerusalem's Old City.
Chief among the shrines for Jews is the site known as the Temple Mount, where the sole remaining segment of King Solomon's ancient temple stands.
The same site is known in Arabic as Haram as-Sharif, the Noble Sanctuary, from which the Prophet Mohammed is said to have ascended to heaven. Two mosques, Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa, are built on the site.
The Palestinians were angered by Sharon's September 28 visit to the Temple Mount, considering it a direct provocation.
Clinton invites Arafat to Washington
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