Barak Strikes

After weeks of tight-lipped maneuvering, Israeli Prime Minister-elect Ehud Barak emerged from a cloak of silence Friday to offer an olive branch to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and deliver a firm rebuke to President Clinton.

Barak telephoned Arafat Friday, their first talk since just after the incoming Israeli leader was elected six weeks ago, officials from both sides said.

BarakÂ's office said he told Arafat that he would follow in the footsteps of slain Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin to end the Israeli-Arab conflict and bring peace to the region.

The leaders reportedly agreed to meet soon after Barak's government takes office next week.

The call came as Barak engaged in his first policy clash with Washington over comments President Clinton made Thursday about Palestinian refugees. Clinton said the refugees should be free to live Â"wherever they like,Â" and a Barak spokesman called Mr. ClintonÂ's remarks Â"not acceptable.Â"

The sticky issue of refugee return was purposely left on the back burner of Israeli-Palestinian talks until confidence-building measures leading to Â"final statusÂ" were completed.

Mark Regev, spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in Washington, later said the Clinton administration gave assurances that it hadn't changed its position that the refugee issue should be resolved through negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

Palestinian Cabinet Minister Ziad Abu Zayyad said Friday that reclaiming homes in Israel - many of which were in Arab villages that no longer exist - Â"is not practical.Â"

Ziad suggested that refugees instead could be compensated for their lost homes and property.

Barak is to present his coalition government to Parliament for a vote of confidence next week. With lawmakers' approval, he is to take office immediately and preside over the broadest coalition to rule Israel in years.

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