JERUSALEM (AP) Israel and the Palestinians argued yesterday over conditions needed to begin truce talks, while Israeli tanks entered the West Bank city of Ramallah in a retaliatory raid, provoking a shootout that killed one Palestinian and one Israeli soldier.

Paul Wong
Some 150 Palestinians burn Israeli flags in front of the United Nations building in downtown Beirut yesterday, protesting the continued fighting in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.<br><br>AP PHOTO

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said truce talks could begin only after two full days with no Palestinian attacks. But Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat rejected that demand, saying the violence was caused by Israel”s incursions into Palestinian territory.

“If absolute quiet lasts 48 continuous hours, our foreign minister will meet with Arafat in order to advance the cease-fire,” Sharon told a special session of parliament, convened to show solidarity with the United States following last week”s terror attacks.

Arafat, speaking in Gaza City, said: “We are committed to the cease fire. We are ready for political dialogue any time, any place.”

During the past year of Mideast fighting, several efforts to arrange a cease-fire have failed. A meeting between Arafat and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres that had been tentatively set for Sunday was called off after Sharon objected, saying opening truce talks now “would give Arafat legitimacy as a good guy.”

President Bush called Sharon on Friday to urge him to begin the talks soon. U.S. officials believe calming Israeli-Palestinian tensions is important to their efforts to enlist Arab states in an international anti-terrorism coalition following the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Arab states have been upset with U.S. policy in the Mideast, urging the United States to take a tougher line with their Israeli allies.

However, Sharon appeared to be resisting the American calls for truce talks with Arafat, believing that he should instead be isolated and branded a terrorist leader. Most of his Cabinet agrees.

“We should remember that the one who gave legitimacy dozens of years ago for the hijacking of planes was Arafat,” said Sharon.

Radical Palestinian groups carried out numerous airline hijackings in the early 1970s.

Sharon has also compared Arafat to accused terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden, the leading suspect in the attacks in the United States.

The Israeli tank incursion in Ramallah, launched in the early hours yesterday, came in response to a shooting attack in Jerusalem late Saturday that killed one Israeli and injured another, the army said.

Palestinian gunmen in a car overtook an Israeli car and opened fire, killing Meir Weisshaus. The car carrying the attackers was seen fleeing toward nearby Ramallah, Israeli police said.

The shooting took place on a road running through Jewish neighborhoods built in parts of Jerusalem that Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war. The radical Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestinian claimed responsibility for the killing in a statement distributed in Damascus, Syria.

Shortly afterward, the Israeli tanks began exchanging fire with Palestinian security forces and militiamen in Ramallah. In fighting that lasted several hours, tanks aided by helicopters shelled Palestinian police checkpoints, a building belonging to Palestinian intelligence and three houses, Palestinian security officials said.

One Israeli soldier was killed and one wounded, the Israeli military said, which also said Israeli forces arrested a few Palestinians. One Palestinian was killed and 25 injured, Palestinians said.

The Israeli tanks pulled out of Ramallah after several hours, as was the case with several previous incursions into Palestinian territory.

Since the Mideast fighting broke out nearly a year ago, 632 people have been killed on the Palestinian side and 175 on the Israeli side.

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