JERUSALEM (AP) -- Israeli and Palestinian leaders said they were willing to meet with President Clinton in Washington for crucial negotiations aimed at breaking the vicious circle of violence that has shattered hopes for peace in the Middle East.
The Palestinian areas were far from quiet on Friday, meanwhile, despite calls for restraint issued by both sides in an attempt to implement their latest cease-fire and stop five weeks of bloodshed.
Three Palestinians were shot dead and hundreds injured in a series of clashes with Israeli troops in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, hospital doctors said. Four Israeli soldiers were also hurt, according to the army. Numerous firefights, some involving machine-guns, were reported late Friday.
Still, Israeli leader Ehud Barak pledged to "persevere in our efforts for peace."
"We are strong enough to stand on both fronts: the battle for peace and the struggle against violence and terror," the prime minister said.
Palestinian leaders, who have designated the past several Fridays a "day of rage," also took on a more subdued tone, saying events Friday and Saturday would determine whether the truce agreement reached earlier in the week was taking hold.
On the political front, aides to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat said he was ready to meet with Clinton in Washington. No definite date was set, said Arafat's spokesman Marwan Kanafani.
He said Arafat would arrive after the American presidential elections "to discuss the situation in the Palestinian areas and the future of the peace process" with Clinton and U. S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.
Shlomo Ben-Ami, Israel's Foreign Minister, told Israel Television from the United States that Arafat was expected in Washington on Wednesday, Nov. 8.
Clinton has also invited Barak, and Ben-Ami said the Israeli leader may travel to Washington after the planned Clinton-Arafat talks. He described the separate meetings as a "U.S. attempt to check how the peace process can move forward."
"I don't think they will talk at the moment about some defined peace package... The sides will check with the Americans what is the best way to advance the process after this harsh breakdown," Ben-Ami added.
The momentum generated by the daily clashes proved hard to stop. After midday prayers at mosques, confrontations began breaking out. One Palestinian was shot dead in Tulkarem, two others were killed in Hizme, both in the West Bank.
Rock-throwing clashes were reported across the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, deteriorating into firefights by night. Palestinian gunmen and Israeli soldiers traded machine-gun fire near Bethlehem and a shooting confrontation was also reported near Hebron in the West Bank.
The Israelis and Palestinians also traded accusations on Friday about the lack of formal cease-fire statements from their leaders. Palestinian officials accused Israel of failing to restrain its troops and moving tanks back to friction points in Palestinian areas.
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