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Stage set for Jerusalem clash

Israeli army snipers took up positions and Palestinian protesters erected tents Monday, eyeing each other suspiciously on a hill in disputed east Jerusalem where Israel plans to build 6,500 apartments.

David Bar-Illan, a top adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said late Monday that surveyors will be sent to the site today. "Bulldozers and tractors will probably come a day later," he said.

Netanyahu is determined to proceed. The Palestinians, who claim east Jerusalem as their future capital, warn they will block the bulldozers, with their bodies, if necessary.

"When it comes to Jerusalem, we are ready to confront anyone . . . to assert our sovereignty," Netanyahu said.

Despite the tough talk, negotiators scrambled to avert a showdown by arranging a summit between Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

"We are trying to exert every possible effort at these critical hours to give the peace process the chance it deserves," Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said after meeting with Israeli officials.

It seemed unlikely Israel would back down, especially with Netanyahu under pressure from hard-liners. His pledge to proceed quelled a rebellion within his government that helped him survive a no-confidence motion by a vote of 54-46 Monday.

In Gaza, Jordan's Crown Prince Hassan visited Arafat Monday and urged a peaceful response, even if construction begins.

Meanwhile, Faisal Husseini, the senior Palestinian official in Jerusalem, pitched two tents decorated with Palestinian flags. Several Israeli nationalists pitched a tent nearby. Israeli officers told Husseini the tents had to be removed by morning. But Husseini said he and a dozen others planned to spend the night in the tents.

He said the scene was reminiscent of the events preceding the 1987-93 Palestinian uprising: "I can smell the same scents we smelled before the uprising."

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