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Israeli cease fire threat peace { June 25 2003 }

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Israel sees a threat as hopes rise for ceasefire
By Ed O'Loughlin, Herald Correspondent in Jerusalem and agencies
June 25 2003

Exiled leaders of the main Palestinian militant groups were to meet in Cairo yesterday amid growing hopes that a ceasefire will soon be announced.

Hopes for a hudna, or Islamic ceasefire, have risen following a series of positive statements from the groups, including Hamas.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in neighbouring Jordan, the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, praised the efforts of the Palestinian Prime Minister, Mahmoud Abbas, to get the main factions to halt attacks on Israel.

Palestinians say that hopes for an end to the recent resurgence in violence depend also on Israel agreeing to halt its raids in Palestinian areas, including its assassinations of militant leaders.

Israel wants the Palestinian Authority to fight the militants rather than talk to them. It says they will use a ceasefire to regroup for further attacks.

Late on Monday, the commander of the Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza, Major-General Amos Gilad, told Israeli Army Radio that a ceasefire would be "a threat to peace". He said "hudna, as a system, contradicts taking responsibility. We expect the Palestinian Authority to take responsibility and exterminate terrorism".

He spoke during a break from talks with the Palestinian security chief, Mohammed Dahlan, over a proposed scaling back of Israeli military operations in the Gaza Strip and perhaps Bethlehem.

The plan to hand over security responsibility to the remnants of the Palestinian security forces remains stalled on Israel's insistence that it should retain control of the Gaza Strip's main highway.

Yesterday, the Israeli Army said it had rounded up about 130 Palestinians in sweeps for suspected Hamas militants in the West Bank city of Hebron. The raids followed a similar operation in Nablus.

Also in the West Bank, Jewish settlers set up a new outpost to replace a hilltop settlement dismantled by the army less than a week ago and named it after the Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, public radio reported yesterday.

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