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Barak warns of 'difficult consequences' if Arafat fails to curb violence
At least 5 Palestinians killed in new clashes
JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Following a security Cabinet meeting Wednesday, Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Barak warned of "difficult consequences" if Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat fails to curb continued violence in Gaza and the West Bank.
"The most difficult moment may not be behind us," Barak said.
Arafat was expected to meet former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres on Wednesday evening to discuss ways of curbing the violence.
Senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat told CNN on Wednesday evening that he has been prevented from leaving Jericho by Israeli security forces. Erakat was due to leave for the United States on Wednesday night to meet with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
Erakat says his home town of Jericho was cordoned off by Israeli security forces, and he was told by the regional army commander he would not be able to leave due to the ongoing clashes there. There has been no response as yet from the Israeli Defence Forces or the Israeli prime minister's office.
In addition the Israeli government said Wednesday that Israeli Transport Minister Amnon Lipkin-Shahak had met with Arafat on Tuesday, but Palestinian sources denied that any such meeting had taken place.
Barak said he had spoken with Arafat by phone in recent days.
Wednesday's Israeli-Palestinian clashes left at least five more Palestinians dead in Gaza and the West Bank.
In the West Bank town of Bethlehem and the southeast suburbs of Jerusalem, intense and fierce gunfights broke out, imperiling new diplomatic efforts to end more than a month of violence that has left at least 171 people dead, according to the International Red Cross.
Of those, 146 were Palestinians, 13 Israeli Arabs and 12 Israeli Jews, the Red Cross said.
Near Bethlehem, Israeli helicopter gunships were called in Wednesday after the Israeli Defense Forces said four of its soldiers were injured in exchanges of gunfire with Palestinians.
Two Palestinians were killed in the firefight, including a 30-year-old policeman. Palestinian officials said at least 17 Palestinians were wounded.
Israeli forces opened fire on the Palestinian town of Beit Jala after they said Palestinians were firing into the nearby Israeli town of Gilo.
Gunfire continued as darkness fell on the disputed area. Israel has incorporated Gilo into Jerusalem. The Palestinians say the area belongs to them.
Earlier Wednesday, two Palestinian teen-agers were shot in the head and killed by Israeli troops at Karni Crossing along the border between Israel and Gaza. Later on, another Palestinian was killed in the same area.
Palestinian doctors said the two teens killed Wednesday were 15 and 16 years old.
A massive funeral with thousands of mourners was held in Gaza City for four people killed at the crossing Tuesday. The body of one of the teen-agers killed Wednesday was also brought to the mass funeral for burial at what the Palestinians are calling a "martyr's cemetery."
Mourners called for new attacks and resistance against Israeli forces.
U.S. peace efforts
Meanwhile, acting Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami is in the United States and was scheduled on Wednesday to discuss the Mideast crisis with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat was due in the United States at the end of the week for a similar session.
U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Ben-Ami was scheduled to meet with Albright at 4 p.m. Eastern Time and that Erakat was expected to arrive in Washington on Thursday for meetings with Albright and U.S. National Security Adviser Samuel Berger.
For his part, Arafat met with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder in Gaza earlier on Wednesday. Schroeder said he supported Palestinian aspirations for an independent state but urged Arafat not to make a unilateral declaration of independence.
CNN correspondent recovering
On Tuesday, CNN Cairo Bureau Chief Ben Wedeman, who was covering a clash between Israelis and Palestinians at Karni Crossing, was hit by a bullet.
The bullet went into his back and exited the front of his body near his waist. Doctors said the wound was not life-threatening, and Wedeman was reunited with his wife and children Wednesday at a hospital in Jerusalem.
Palestinian negotiator says violence will stop if Israel withdraws troops
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