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Urgent appeal made for Mideast talks

Israel and the United States pulled out all the stops Wednesday in appealing to PLO leader Yasser Arafat and Palestinians to resume peace talks despite the massacre at a West Bank mosque.

President Clinton warned that a breakdown in negotiations would "hand a victory" to the Jewish extremist who killed at least 30 worshipers at the Ibrahim Mosque in Hebron.

"If the peace talks don't get back on track, then we are rewarding the damage and the death wreaked by the extremists," Clinton told reporters at the White House. "We don't want to do that. We want to keep going."

Secretary of State Warren Christopher said he would open talks Friday in Washington with Nabil Shaath, Arafat's envoy for discussions on restarting the negotiations.

In Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin made an impassioned appeal of his own to Palestinian leaders to resume the talks.

"I believe at this stage the leadership of both sides, Palestinians and us, have to stand up to overcome pain, sorrow and agony and to understand that the real solution is in the political field," he said.

Rabin told reporters in Jerusalem that before the Hebron massacre, Israeli and PLO negotiators were tantalizingly close to agreement on the details for Palestinian self-government in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank town of Jericho.

He and Clinton, using similar arguments, insisted that the only chance the Palestinians now had to improve their living conditions in the Israeli-occupied territories was to resume negotiations.

But they both ruled out measures that Arafat has demanded as a condition for resuming the talks. He has said that all Jewish settlers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip should be disarmed and that the settlements should be moved away from Arab population centers.

However, Christopher said the Clinton administration might support the temporary stationing of U.N. observers in Jericho and in Gaza if Israel gave its consent. Israel said Tuesday it would allow international observers in the occupied lands, but the PLO wants an armed protection force.

Many Palestinians are condemning Arafat for trying to make peace with Israel at all, arguing that the peace process somehow made it easier for an American-born Israeli settler to shoot up the Ibrahim Mosque.

Clinton acknowledged that the mood among Palestinians after the massacre is so angry that logic apparently has little appeal.

"I know (Arafat's) under a lot of pressure at home and I understand that," Clinton said. "The only thing that I would say to the Palestinians who are pressuring Arafat not to resume talks is that that is the surest way to hand a victory to the madman who killed all the Palestinians in the mosque."

Arafat also found a friend Wednesday in Foreign Minister Shimon Peres. Peres told Parliament that Israel had to "help this partner" and "listen to their needs."

When he spoke with sympathy and considerable emotion about Arafat _ a man universally despised in Israel only six months ago _ he was screamed at by rightist lawmakers.

"Attack Arafat all you want," Peres said. "I sat days and nights across from him.

"There is a difference when you describe Arafat through hearsay and images and when you see this man, whose life is in danger," he said, adding, "His life is in danger because he decided to end the killing."

Still, sympathies are one thing and political realities another. Peres and Rabin reiterated the government's refusal to yield to PLO demands on the settlement issue, which under the Sept. 13 Israel-PLO accord is not to be discussed until two years after the agreement is implemented.

Despite that, Israel did make one radical concession Wednesday. Israeli police imposed restrictions on 18 Jewish activists in the ultranationalist Kach and Kahane Hai movements. The militants were ordered to turn in their army-issued weapons and were placed under travel restrictions.

Israel has made other conciliatory gestures, including the release this week of 570 Palestinian prisoners. Another 400 are to be freed today and Friday.

On Wednesday, the Israeli army lifted curfews _ imposed in the occupied territories since the weekend rioting that followed the Hebron massacre _ for three hours so residents could buy food. But more rioting soon followed.

In Hebron, hundreds of youths poured into the streets, throwing stones and firebombs. Soldiers shot and killed a 17-year-old protester, and 33 Arabs were injured in clashes with police.

In Jericho, a rally turned violent as 400 demonstrators stoned police and soldiers. The Israelis opened fire, killing a 20-year-old Palestinian. The death was the first there in some time.

About 20 people were injured, including Saeb Erakat, head of the PLO's negotiating team, who was slightly wounded in the leg.

Wednesday's fatalities raised the death toll since Friday's massacre to at least 66, including at least 30 men and boys _ all but three Arab _ killed in the mosque. More than 400 people have been wounded.

After the latest unrest, Rabin said Palestinians would continue to be restricted indefinitely through curfews and roadblocks that keep them from leaving the territories for work in Israel. Passions were boiling, he said, and it put Israelis at risk.

"I don't need casualties on the Israeli side in addition to the tragedy in Hebron," he told reporters.

_ Information from the Los Angeles Times, New York Times and Associated Press was used in this report.