Palestinian police practice crowd control;Talks continue

NABLUS, West Bank (AP) — The “rioters” — two dozen Palestinian police officers dressed in jeans and T-shirts — hurled stones Wednesday at their helmeted colleagues, who took cover behind a phalanx of plastic shields.
The men in riot gear threw a stun grenade before advancing in neat formation toward the “rioters.”
But it wasn’t good enough. Their commanding officer whistled them back and demanded another drill.
The exercise, conducted in a dusty lot outside Nablus police headquarters, illustrates Yasser Arafat’s determination to allay Israeli concerns about his security forces — especially after last month’s gun battles between Palestinian police and Israeli troops.
The question of Palestinian police competence is central to negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians on the future of the West Bank town of Hebron.
The Palestinians insist they can keep the peace in the volatile town, where 450 Jewish settlers live among 94,000 Palestinians, and demand that Israel keep its promise to withdraw its troops from 80 percent of Hebron.
Israel points to last month’s violence as a reason for demanding better security for the settlers before withdrawal.
Negotiators began a fourth day of talks Wednesday at the Erez crossing between Israel and Gaza. President Clinton’s Mideast coordinator, Dennis Ross, met separately with Arafat and Israeli Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai.
Ross, who has been attending the negotiations, said both sides were committed to the talks, but acknowledged no progress had been made.
The Palestinians accuse Israel of trying to change agreements signed Israel’s previous government.
“We will not accept changing a sentence or a letter in the … agreements, even if the price is the failure of the peace process,” Arafat said in an interview with Egypt’s weekly Al Mussawar magazine.
The chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erakat, said his instructions were “not to listen to any Israeli proposals that go beyond what had been agreed upon.”
Israeli negotiators have demanded, among other things, that Israeli soldiers retain control over a larger area of Hebron than originally agreed upon, and that they be given the right to chase Palestinian suspects into areas under Palestinian control.
Israeli government spokesman Moshe Fogel denied, however, that Israel was trying to change the agreement.
“The bottom line is that we want to redeploy in such a way as to continue the process, and not have it derailed by security problems,” he said Wednesday.
Fogel said last month’s violence undercut the trust between the two sides and that it would take time to restore Israeli confidence in the Palestinian police.
Cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian security forces is one of the basic tenets of the autonomy accords.
One of the worst clashes last month took place at Joseph’s Tomb, a Jewish seminary in the West Bank town of Nablus.
The violence began when hundreds of demonstrators, angered by Israel’s opening of a tourist tunnel entrance near Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem, threw stones at the walled compound. Israeli troops inside Joseph’s Tomb opened fire at the crowd, and at some point Palestinian police returned fire.
Israeli troops sent in reinforcements in armored vehicles; Palestinian rioters stormed the compound. By the end of the day, six Israeli soldiers and two Palestinians were dead.
On Wednesday, Palestinian police at roadblocks around Joseph’s Tomb kept Arab-owned cars and Palestinian passers-by away, saying the compound was a closed military zone.