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Bumps In Road To Peace

June 7, 2000 - Despite turmoil in Israel's domestic politics and a dispute over the Lebanon-Israel border, efforts to get the Middle East peace process back on track continued Wednesday in Egypt's capital.

Before starting a meeting in Cairo with Syrian Foreign Minister Farouq al-Sharaa, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright told a news conference that Syria had played a constructive and cooperative role over Israel's sudden withdrawal from southern Lebanon last month.

But Albright added: "It is very important that all parties do in fact follow through on their obligations. The Israelis have done so and I think that the Syrians should do so also."

However, while Albright applauded the Israeli withdrawal, the U.N. said Israel's forces needed to move out from one more border village to comply with the international border.

Earlier Wednesday, Albright said Syria needs to withdraw its 30,000 troops from Lebanon now that Israel has pulled its forces out of the south. She cited a 1978 U.N. resolution calling for the Israelis to depart and said—without specifically citing Syria—that others should, as well.

Albright said the door was open for resuming direct Israeli-Syrian talks, which stalled in the U.S. in January, but she did not expect any progress in Cairo.

The main sticking point is over the Golan Heights—a strategic plateau Israel captured during the 1967 Mideast war. Syria wants all of it back, but Israel is trying to hold on to some of the territory on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, which is a key water source.

Sharaa called the meeting with Albright positive, telling reporters it helped clear up "past misunderstandings." The Syrian official did not indicate, however, that the stalemate with Israel was easing.

The Clinton administration is putting on a full court press to nudge along all the parties to the peace process.

President Clinton himself met Tuesday with Jordan’s King Abdullah, who could become an important player in the peace process, especially if Israel turns over Jordan Valley territory to the Palestinians, because that would have an impact on Jordan's security.

And Albright flew to Egypt from Israel where she was able to induce Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to send senior negotiators to Washington early next week for a resumption of negotiations after a two-month lapse.

The two sides face a September 13 deadline for agreeing to a framework to produce a final solution to vexing regional issues like which tracts of land to hand over, security concerns, Jewish settlements, and the status of Jerusalem.

Israel claims it as its capital but in which Palestinians want to maintain a foothold.

Those negotiations may have been complicated Wednesday by a vote in the Israeli parliament calling for early elections.

Rebellious coalition parties and the opposition joined to approve a bill to call elections. Three more votes are neded to pass the bill. The next vote may be in late July.

The crisis might spell the end of Barak's one-year-old coalition, and even if it survives, could freeze Middle East peacemaking for weeks or even months.

Also Wednesday, the United Nations told Israel to amend its border with Lebanon after cartographers found it had violated the line defining its withdrawal at one point, the northern settlement of Misgav'am.

A U.N. spokesperson said Israel had to withdraw from that area before his troops could verify that the Jewish state had ended its 22-year occupation a deploy along the border to maintain calm.

Beirut and the United Nations also disagree on three areas along the line.

However, a U.N. envoy said the points of contention were few, with divergences ranging between 10 and 200 yards.

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