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Arafat reportedly threatens to walk out

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THURMONT, Md. — Palestinian President Yasser Arafat threatened to walk out of a Middle East summit in anger over U.S. bridging proposals, but President Clinton calmed him down, a source close to the talks said Friday.

As an official news blackout continued for a fourth day, Israeli and Palestinian sources both said the United States had put forward its own ideas for the first time Thursday night aimed at narrowing differences on the core issues.

But those ideas, which the Israeli source said were only presented verbally, sparked the summit's first reported crisis.

One source told Reuters that Arafat was so angry at the proposals made by U.S. Middle East envoy Dennis Ross that he ordered his delegation to pack their bags.

"There was a crisis during the talks yesterday and Arafat ordered his delegation to pack their bags to leave Camp David in anger at American proposals which were identical to the Israeli position," the source said.

"President Clinton calmed Arafat down, and the Palestinian leader agreed to stay only after the Americans withdrew their proposals. They are expected to submit new proposals," the source added.

White House spokesman Joe Lockhart refused to confirm or deny the report but conceded that tensions had flared at times.

"I didn't see any luggage today," Lockhart said when asked about the reported Thursday night incident.

"These are very, very difficult issues. I've heard about a lot of tensions between the parties. There are tensions every day when you're working through these issues," he said.

A Palestinian source said the U.S. ideas covered Palestinian refugees, the fate of Jerusalem and borders of a future Palestinian state.

He also said Arafat had rejected a redrawn map of the disputed city of Jerusalem proposed by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak's delegation, saying it was close to an Israeli proposal to grant Palestinians in East Jerusalem municipal powers under Israeli sovereignty.

Palestinians want Arab East Jerusalem as capital of an independent state, while Israel says the holy city must remain undivided under its sovereignty.

Two senior Cabinet ministers told reporters in Israel this week that a swap of West Bank land for sovereign Israeli territory would also be on the table.

Lockhart said Clinton was expected to remain at Camp David until he leaves for a major summit in Japan next Wednesday.

"I think you can assume he will be here indefinitely. I think everyone knows the outer parameters of his schedule," he told a news briefing.

Clinton is due to leave next Wednesday for a Group of Eight summit in Japan. Some Israeli officials have said the negotiations could continue in his absence.

Asked if the atmosphere was positive, Lockhart said he would prefer to stick to the word "informal." The talks had split into working groups on each of the core issues, he said.

A senior Israeli source said: "The negotiations are difficult. These are subjects that are hard to solve. If there will be an agreement, Israel will have to pay a heavy price."

Israeli and Palestinian officials said delegation members would open talks on economic issues on Saturday night, either at Camp David or at a separate federal facility in the nearby town of Emmitsburg, where technical experts have been based.

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright left Camp David Friday morning and met a group of Palestinian leftist opposition leaders in Emmitsburg after the U.S. hosts refused to allow them to confer with Arafat at the summit venue.

Struggling to keep the talks confidential, Lockhart said: "Given the spirit of the ground rules that we've put down, we indicated that we prefer that meeting not happen." But he did not entirely rule it out, saying delegates were free to leave Camp David if they wished to.

Lockhart said the Albright meeting was intended to take the place of a session with Arafat in Camp David requested by Palestinian officials at the invitation of the PLO leader.

One of three Palestinians who flew in to see Arafat, Tayseer Khaled of the radical Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, refused to meet Albright, charging that the Americans were interfering in Palestinian affairs.

With Barak preparing to negotiate on Jerusalem, one of his domestic opponents, Limor Livnat of the Likud Party, visited the summit media center to warn against erecting a "Berlin Wall" in the city.

U.S. officials promptly asked her to leave, as they did a Palestinian official two days previously. "Symmetry has been restored," a U.S. official said.

Israeli and Palestinian officials warn that if the summit fails, the region might be consumed by violence much worse than the seven-year Palestinian Intifada or uprising which began in 1987 against Israel's military occupation of the Gaza Strip and West Bank, lands captured 20 years previously.