March 31, 1998 in Nation/World

Israelis Reject Troop Withdrawal Plan U.S. Sought 13 Percent Drop In Troops In The West Bank

Karin Laub Associated Press
 

U.S. envoy Dennis Ross was left empty-handed Monday after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refused to agree to a troop withdrawal from 13 percent of the West Bank.

The American mediator’s fourth and final meeting with Netanyahu ended Monday night with no deal. He was to depart Israel early today.

Earlier, Ross suggested American patience was running out and the Clinton administration would not keep up the mediation effort indefinitely. “At some point we have to bring this effort to a conclusion,” he said.

David Bar-Illan, a top adviser to Netanyahu, said the prime minister “flatly rejected the idea of a 13 percent withdrawal.” But Bar-Illan insisted that “progress was made” in the meetings with Ross.

“We believe there is a much greater understanding of our position on the part of the Americans,” he said.

Palestinian Planning Minister Nabil Shaath said it was too early to say whether Ross’ mission had failed. “Each side presented their conditions and perceptions of the minimum things they can accept,” he said.

In the West Bank, where frustration is growing over Washington’s inability to break the deadlock in the peace talks, Palestinians chanting “Death to America!” stoned Israeli troops.

Israeli troops fired tear gas and metal pellets to disperse hundreds of protesters in the West Bank towns of Bethlehem, El Bireh and Ramallah. Several Palestinians were injured.

Palestinian police, meanwhile, rounded up several supporters of the Islamic militant group Hamas to question them about the explosion of a car reportedly rigged with 110 pounds of TNT.

The car bomb, apparently intended for use in an attack in Israel, went off prematurely Sunday in an industrial zone of the West Bank town of Ramallah, killing one Palestinian.

The blast reduced the car to a ball of twisted metal and leveled the garage it was hidden in.

Ross was meeting with Netanyahu to try to get his backing for Washington’s proposal that Israel withdraw from 13 percent of the West Bank in several stages over 12 weeks.


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