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Publisher\Editor Don Canaan

                       March 13, 1996 V4, #47
All the News the Big Guys Missed

World Leaders Gather at Sharm el Sheik

By Laurie Kassman (VOA-Sharm el Sheik), Deborah Tate (VOA-The White House), Al Pessin (VOA-Jerusalem)

World leaders gather in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el Sheik today for what has been called "The Summit of the Peacemakers." Those gathering are expected to shore up support for the peace process and to discuss security and how to combat terrorism aimed at sabotaging the peace process. A tight security net has been thrown over the resort to make sure the meeting does not fall victim to the very subject the leaders are discussing.

Roadblocks have been set up every few meters along the few roads that crisscross around the tiny turquoise-colored bay. The resort, best known for its fine weather and coral reefs, has been turned into a security zone.

Cars are being towed. Police are checking identity cards and rechecking them to make sure nothing goes wrong when more than 30 leaders and top officials from North America, Europe and the Middle East gather here to talk about peace and terrorism. Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres and Palestinian Authority Chief Yasir Arafat are also here.

The main aim of the hastily called summit is to shore up support for the peace process, which has been shaken by a wave of suicide bombings in Israel. Mubarak has warned without such a meeting, the whole peace process could collapse.

The threat of more violence by the radical Palestinian group Hamas has cast a cloud over the summit. Hamas claims responsibility for the latest wave of bombings that killed 61 people in Israel.

Most Arab states of the region will be represented at the summit, even those not yet officially at peace with Israel. But Syria and Lebanon have turned down the invitation. Even though they are involved in peace talks with Israel, they usually do not send delegates to international meetings where the Jewish state is also present. They are accused of sponsoring terrorism in the region.

Clinton says he is taking part in the summit at the Red Sea resort to underscore the US commitment to the Middle East peace process. He said the day-long summit would have a clear purpose: "to condemn the appalling acts of terror that have occurred in Israel in the last several days, and to find ways to combat those who still seek to kill peace with violence."

After the summit, Clinton flies to Israel, where he will personally express his condolences to the Israeli people in the aftermath of the suicide bombings. He will also hold meetings with Israeli officials.

The summit in Sharm el-Sheik is intended to bring together countries committed to the Middle East peace process to condemn terrorism and renew the momentum of peace, which was slowed by recent terrorist bombings in Israel. But preparations for the summit are also revealing differing views of what needs to be done between the two parties at the center of the process and the terror -- Israel and the Palestinians.

For Israel, the focus of the summit is terrorism and the goal is to develop a concrete plan for international cooperation to fight it. For the Palestinians, the summit is a way to get the peace process back on track. For them it means an end to the Israeli siege on the West Bank and Gaza and the continued expansion of the autonomous areas.

Palestinians worry the Israeli goal would bring them more hardship through a continuing crackdown. Israelis worry the Palestinian goal would open the door to more terrorism.

Those contradictions encapsulate the sorry state of the Middle East peace process, which seemed to be going so well just more than two weeks ago when the first of the recent series of Palestinian militant bombers detonated his charge on a Jerusalem bus.

Peres goes to the summit just 10 weeks away from elections and public opinion polls have already shown continued terrorism will hurt him. He needs the summit to give him something tangible to show Israelis he is doing everything possible to fight terrorism, and that countries around the world -- including many Arab states -- are going to help.

Israeli news reports say Peres and Clinton will also initial an agreement for closer cooperation on defense and intelligence matters when the president comes to Israel after the summit.

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