Israel reopens tunnel; mideast summit expected

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel defied world opinion Sunday by reopening a tunnel near Jerusalem’s Muslim holy shrines, but agreed to a summit with the Palestinians in Washington in an attempt to revive peace talks and end the violence that has taken 73 lives.
President Clinton telephoned Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and told them he expected their summit Tuesday to end in success.
“The president said the results needed from the meeting in Washington are an end to the violence and speedy renewal of negotiations,” a statement from Netanyahu’s office said.
Although the reopening of the tunnel kept Palestinian anger running high, Clinton’s personal intervention was seen as likely to calm passions on both sides and renew hopes for progress.
Arafat and Netanyahu initially refused to make concessions that would allow the summit to go ahead, but Israel’s Channel 2 TV said a possible compromise was emerging.
Arafat, it said, would pledge to end the violence and stop objecting to the tunnel, while Netanyahu would agree to a timetable for future negotiations and a date for Israel’s military pullout from the West Bank city of Hebron.
One remaining obstacle was the role of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Clinton invited him to attend, and Arafat insisted the Egyptian be there, but Mubarak did not agree to go.
Netanyahu adviser Dore Gold and Arafat deputy Mahmoud Abbas met in Israel late Sunday to work out the agenda for the summit, Israeli media reported.
The 500-yard tunnel is portrayed by Israel as a harmless archaeological excavation, but it runs alongside hallowed Muslim shrines and is seen by Palestinians as diminishing their claim to Arab east Jerusalem.
Israel opened the tunnel on Tuesday night, triggering clashes that left 56 Palestinians and 14 Israelis dead in the worst gunbattles they have waged in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 29 years. Three Egyptian soldiers also were killed by stray bullets that crossed the Gaza-Egypt border.
Israel closed the tunnel Friday and Saturday, hoping to restore calm, and reopened it Sunday. Netanyahu vowed Saturday night that the tunnel “will always be open.”
Late Saturday, the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution that indirectly calls on Israel to close the tunnel. The vote was 14-0, with the United States abstaining.
Arab teen-agers threw stones Sunday as Israeli guards opened the steel exit door of the passage leading onto the Via Dolorosa, Jesus’s route to his crucifixion.
But the riots had died down by Sunday in the West Bank and Gaza. Israeli soldiers, backed by tanks, had laid siege to the Palestinian areas, and Arafat’s 30,000-member police force kept demonstrators away from Israeli army positions.
Nabil Shaath, a senior Palestinian negotiator, accused Netanyahu of triggering the violence by opening the tunnel without consulting the Palestinians.
Shaath said the Palestinians nonetheless had not given up hope. “People are worried and impatient, but they are willing to give their leader a chance to go to Washington,” he said.
A senior official in Arafat’s office said the Palestinian leaderwould travel to Cairo early Monday and were expected to fly from there to Washington.
While both sides agreed it was time to sit down together, the language with which they swapped accusations showed how far they remain from getting back to negotiating a permanent peace agreement.
Netanyahu said Arafat spread “monstrous lies” by claiming the tunnel ran underneath — rather than alongside — the Al Aqsa Mosque compound. He also accused the Palestinian leader of inciting riots against Israel.
The secretary of the Palestinian Cabinet, Ahmed Abdel Rahman, said reopening the tunnel was a “declaration of war.”
Netanyahu said he would not discuss the tunnel reopening with Arafat in Washington because it was Israel’s business alone. “It won’t be on my table,” he said in an interview with CNN.