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Bombs kill 2 as Arabs discuss Clinton's plan

Arafat refuses to agree to Clinton's proposals for continuing talks.

Prime Minister Ehud Barak ordered the army to cordon off the entire West Bank and Gaza Strip on Thursday night after bombings that killed two Israelis, while the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, discussed President Clinton's last ditch peace proposal with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

What was to have been a three-way meeting of Mubarak, Arafat and Barak in Egypt was reduced to a brief meeting between the two Arab leaders after Arafat sent the Americans a noncommittal letter packed with objections and questions on the Clinton plan.

Barak's office said there was no point in the prime minister attending the meeting since the Palestinians had not agreed to the Clinton proposals as a basis for continuing negotiations. The Israeli Cabinet has conditionally accepted the U.S. suggestions, but has also raised a number of questions and objections.

Arafat said that he hoped to meet with a committee of the Arab League, possibly Monday, to discuss the Clinton proposals. The unwritten initiative presents each side with sweeping, difficult choices, most notably giving the Palestinians full control of the plateau atop Temple Mount, known to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif or the Noble Sanctuary, in exchange for giving up the right of Palestinian refugees to return to Israel.

"We are speaking about all the issues with our Arab brothers," Arafat said.

Even as Israeli and Palestinian officials wrestled with Clinton's proposals and the approaching end of his administration, the violence continued with two bomb attacks and a number of shooting incidents. At least 345 people have been killed, most of them Arabs, in the past three months of unrest.

Two Israeli military men _ a soldier and a border police officer _ were killed and at least two others wounded when a roadside bomb exploded in the Gaza Strip near a border fence with Israel, the army said. The bombing appeared to be a well-coordinated ambush in which the troops were lured to the area by what appeared to be one bomb. Then a second bomb exploded and assailants opened fire.

Islamic Holy War, the fundamentalist militant group, claimed responsibility in a call to a Hezbollah television station.

At midday, two pipe bombs exploded in a Tel Aviv bus, injuring 14 people and leaving a normally busy street strewn with glass. Police sealed off the area for more than an hour and warned people to stay indoors as they searched for more explosives. They said they defused a third bomb.

Barak called the bombing a "base attack" and said it "will notbreak our determination to achieve real security by bringing about an end to the conflict and bloodshed in the region."

The order to seal off the entire West Bank and Gaza strip was described in a statement from Barak's office Thursday as one of "a number of steps after the serious attacks today."

The suggestions from Clinton, versions of which have filled Israeli and Palestinian papers, appear to be broad outlines subject to a number of interpretations, leaving both sides trying to figure out who would have advantages. The Palestinians, for example, wanted to know if Israeli jurisdiction over the Western Wall would cover the 85-yard section where Jews pray or a larger 480-yard section, part of it underground.

And, while a U.S. official said Wednesday that Clinton's proposal specifically mentioned Palestinian "sovereignty" over the top of the Temple Mount, Barak has assiduously avoided the word, referring only to Palestinian "control."

Arafat is said to be under tremendous pressure at home to reject the U.S. proposals. Not only have Hamas and Islamic Jihad come out against it, so have many leaders of his own Fatah organization, along with those of youth movements and groups in refugee camps, allied political parties and an important bloc of independent Palestinian legislators. Much of the opposition apparently stems from bitterness over the casualties that the Palestinians have taken in the past three months of violence.

Arafat's chief negotiator, Yasser Abed Rabbo, has condemned the Clinton proposals, saying "the offer we have is not an opportunity but a trap," which will "harm generations of Palestinian children."

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