| Yasser Arafat signing papers in his besieged office in Ramallah on Monday. (Reuters)
Ramallah, Sept. 23 (Reuters): Israeli and Palestinian officials held their first talks today since the army laid siege to Yasser Arafat’s West Bank headquarters, but failed to end the four-day-old standoff.
After the talks, the Israeli army briefly opened its tight security cordon around Arafat’s devastated presidential complex in Ramallah to let chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat in to brief the Palestinian leader on the meeting.
Erekat said Israeli officials had refused to present him with a list of suspected militants they say are holed up with Arafat and should give themselves up, and demanded Arafat draw up a roster of all those in the compound, identifying militants.
“Arafat rejected the Israeli proposal,” Erekat told Reuters.
Another Palestinian official said Arafat had demanded talks on political issues as well as military matters with Israel. Arafat also said he wanted the talks to be attended by US representatives. The failure of the talks dealt a new blow to hopes that the siege would end quickly and represented a further setback to international efforts to end two years of violence since the Palestinians rose up against Israeli occupation.
Israeli and Palestinian officials remained entrenched in the positions they have taken since Israeli tanks began the siege last Thursday in response to two suicide bombings that killed seven people in Israel.
“I will be here until all the wanted people leave,” a senior Israeli military commander said.
Mohammed Dahlan, Arafat's security adviser, retorted: “If Israel believes we will hand over any Palestinian or accept their deportation to Jericho or Gaza or anywhere else, it is wrong.”