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After attack, Israel halts its talks with Palestinians

Just hours after a 2-year-old Israeli girl was badly burned by a Molotov cocktail in Palestinian-controlled territory, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak on Sunday ordered his negotiators to cut short peace talks with the Palestinians that were under way in Stockholm, Sweden.

Breaking off talks two days early was the latest sign that Barak is losing patience with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's failure to control violence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, where five Palestinians have been killed and more than 1,000 wounded during more than a week of protests intended to win the release of 1,650 prisoners from Israeli jails. Several Israeli soldiers have also been wounded in the clashes.

The Palestinian unrest that began a week ago continued in sporadic locations Sunday. On Friday evening an Israeli soldier was severely wounded when he was shot in the face by Palestinian fire. Early Sunday, about 10 Molotov cocktails were thrown at Israeli cars in the Jericho area of the West Bank, including the vehicle carrying the Israeli toddler, who was on life support systems Sunday night.

Meanwhile, the Shia Islamic Hezbollah militia is stepping up its attacks on Israeli troops in southern Lebanon as they begin to withdraw after a 22-year presence.

Barak, who is also defense minister, has instructed the army to be ready to withdraw within one night any time from June 1 to July 7, which is being touted as evidence he may hasten the pace of the pullout.

On Sunday Hezbollah, which is supported by Iran and Syria, hit an outpost on the Israeli side of the border. Hezbollah also managed to chase Israel's proxy force, the South Lebanon Army, from the Taibe outpost in southern Lebanon, which Israel handed to the SLA just one week ago.

Hezbollah claimed responsibility for a rare attack on Har Dov, an Israeli observation post at the edge of the Golan Heights, which Israel captured from Syria in 1967.

Sunday's attack on Har Dov was believed to be the first Hezbollah assault near the Syrian-Lebanese border since 1989 and appeared to underscore a claim by Syria and its client state Lebanon that the nearby Shebaa Farms are part of Lebanese territory and must be handed over by Israel as it withdraws.

The United Nations has reportedly concluded that the Shebaa area is in fact Israeli-occupied Syrian territory, and as such should be dealt with during any resumption of Israel-Syria negotiations over the Golan Heights. Those talks collapsed in March. But Israeli authorities say Syria is raising the issue as a pretext to continue supporting Hezbollah attacks against Israel after Barak's declared July 7 withdrawal deadline, by asserting that the withdrawal will not be complete.

The Israeli and Palestinian negotiators meeting in Stockholm are trying to reach a peace accord by mid-September that would settle borders of a future Palestinian state, the status of Jerusalem and the fate of more than 3-million Palestinian refugees.

Barak's envoys, Cabinet minister Shlomo Ben-Ami and attorney Gilad Sher, were to return to Israel this morning for "consultations" over the future of peace negotiations with Palestinians, said the prime minister's office.

Barak's move was "part of Israel's efforts to pressure Arafat and ensure there is no new outbreak of violence," said Mark Weiss, a diplomatic correspondent for Israel Radio.

Barak also ordered a ban on Israeli travel to areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority, which amounts to an economic sanction against the Palestinians. They were just beginning to benefit from a rise in Israeli shopping and dining in the West Bank. In Jericho alone, hundreds of Israelis spend thousands of dollars each day at a Palestinian casino.

The escalating violence on two fronts has increased domestic pressure on Barak in what he had hoped would be the last phase of reaching an agreement with the Palestinians.

With just a few months left in office, President Clinton is eager for a quick deal on the Palestinian front. Barak has said he hopes within the next two weeks to reschedule a meeting with Clinton that he canceled last week because of troubles at home.

In a speech Sunday morning in Tel Aviv, the U.S. national security adviser, Sandy Berger, said a deal is possible even on the most complex issues and "it should be done, now."

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