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W.Va. peace talks prompt tight security at two schools

December 29, 1999|By DAVE McMILLION, Charles Town

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - When peace talks between Syria and Israel begin here Monday, local police will be stationed around two Shepherdstown schools 24 hours a day to guard them against any possible terrorist acts, the mayor said Wednesday.

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Shepherdstown Junior High and Shepherdstown Elementary schools are about a quarter of a mile from the Clarion Hotel and Conference Center, where at least some of the talks will be held.

Because of the schools' proximity to the hotel, some town residents are worried that any incidents at the hotel could spill over to the school grounds, said Mayor Vince Parmesano.

To ease fears, police officers will be stationed around the schools during the talks, Parmesano said. "Maybe that will reassure people," he said.

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The officers will guard the schools around the clock as long as the talks last, Parmesano said.

The officers will mostly be stationed along W.Va. 480, which runs between the schools, and the Clarion, Parmesano said.

West Virginia State Police Capt. Larry Bradley said state police would bring in extra officers to provide security. Many troopers are coming in from outside Jefferson County, Bradley said.

He would not elaborate.

"It just takes a lot of security for this detail," Bradley said.

A U.S. State Department official said the decision to station police around the school is an overreaction.

"That's just hysteria," said the State Department spokesman, who would not be identified.

There have never been any terrorist attacks at the site of peace talks in the past, the State Department spokesman said.

The U.S. Justice Department recently warned U.S. residents to be wary if they travel through the country during the holiday season, but the warning has nothing to do with the scheduled peace talks, said State Department spokesman said.

The talks follow two days of preliminary negotiations that ended Dec. 16 in Washington. The longtime Mideast foes are working to revive a proposal abandoned in 1996 under which Syria would get back the Golan Heights and Israel would get security and peace with its Arab neighbor.

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