Suspended US Ambassador to Israel Returns to Work

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:08 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - Two weeks after the U.S. ambassador to Israel was temporarily removed from his post pending a State Department security investigation, Martin Indyk is back at work trying to help end the worst violence between Israel and the Palestinians in years.

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who is meeting with Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat in Paris on Wednesday, cited "compelling national interests" for bringing Indyk back into the peace loop.

"Ambassador Indyk returned last week to celebrate the Jewish holidays with his family," U.S. Embassy spokesman Larry Schwartz said in a statement Tuesday evening.

"In light of the continuing violence in the West Bank, Gaza and Israel, the secretary - for compelling national interests - has asked Ambassador Indyk to engage with government officials and others in Israel to help calm the current crisis, and seek to avoid further violence and loss of life," Schwartz said.

Indyk, who has been a major player on President Clinton's peace team, was benched when his security clearance was suspended after he allegedly mishandled classified information on a laptop computer. He was not suspected of espionage or compromising U.S. intelligence information.

Schwartz said Wednesday Indyk had met with Barak on Tuesday evening, but he could not disclose the substance of those talks. He called Indyk's return to work in such circumstances a "very unusual situation."

Albright is meanwhile holding separate bilateral meetings with Barak and Arafat at the U.S. Embassy in Paris and will later meet with both leaders in an attempt to find a way to end the current cycle of violence.

On Thursday, Albright is due to travel to Egypt for talks with Barak, Arafat and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, a key Mideast player in the diplomatic process.

The Israeli army believes Wednesday's talks in Paris will bring about a change in the situation on the ground, one way or another.

"This summit won't leave the situation as it is," the army's operations commander, Maj.-Gen. Giora Eiland, was quoted as saying. "Either it will find a solution to the current violence and there will be calm, or if it doesn't succeed, we can expect a much worse situation."

Barak has called on the Israeli security forces to act with restraint to minimize the number of casualties. But he has also authorized them to do whatever is necessary to restore order to the West Bank, Gaza and Israeli Arab towns.

If the situation escalates, Eiland said, Israel has "enough forces and determination to use them if required."

Fifty-six people have died and more than 1,300 have been wounded in the worst outbreak of violence since 1996. Most of the dead and injured are Palestinians.

Wednesday morning was relatively quiet in flashpoint areas, with only isolated incidents of stoning, shooting and throwing of firebombs.

Dozens of forest fires, presumably set by arsonists, also raged in northern Israel on Tuesday and Wednesday.

On Tuesday, a ceasefire collapsed and full-blown clashes left at least four Palestinians and one Israeli Arab dead, and more than 200 injured. According to the Israeli army, troops also came under gunfire overnight in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, and returned fire.

One of the most shocking images shown on television from Tuesday's violence was that of a Palestinian marching through the streets of Gaza, holding the bloody innards of a comrade in his hands.

The level of fighting in the disputed territories has far surpassed that of the 1987-93 Palestinian uprising (intifada) or any previous outbreaks since the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993.

Israel has brought in heavy weapons, including tanks and attack helicopters. Palestinian gunmen, including members of a police force set up under the peace deal, are equipped with automatic weapons, many of which were provided by Israel for use by the PA police.

"There has never been anything on this level - not when it comes to clashes and certainly not when it comes to the use of weapons," said Yisrael Yitzhak, commander of Israel's border police, who has been involved in riot control since 1987.