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Palestinians haggle over cease fire plans { December 5 2003 }

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Palestinians Haggle Over Cease-Fire Plans
Friday December 5, 2003 7:46 PM


Associated Press Writer

CAIRO, Egypt (AP) - Palestinians faced the tough job Friday of deciding on a workable cease-fire offer to Israel after Islamic and secular factions presented widely varying views.

Egypt is pushing for quick agreement on a halt to all attacks that its intelligence chief can take to Washington next week in hopes of winning U.S. backing.

Both the United States and Egypt see a cease-fire as a way to revive negotiations on the ``road map,'' the peace plan backed by the international community to end five decades of conflict and create a Palestinian state.

The Palestinian factions are holding talks aimed at producing a cease-fire, with Egypt applying pressure and Israel hinting it could reduce its own military actions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip if a truce were declared.

Intelligence chief Brig. Omar Suleiman has urged the factions meeting here to give full authority to Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia to work out the details of a truce - a point made Friday by Jordan's King Abdullah II who met in Washington a day earlier with President Bush.

``What can be done at the moment is to make sure that the new Palestinian prime minister has the opportunity ... to coordinate with his Israeli counterparts to be able to establish some understanding on the security issues, which will then lead us back to the 'road map,''' Abdullah said on ABC's ``Good Morning, America.''

Suleiman has told delegates that the time is ripe to get the United States more deeply involved in the negotiations.

Secretary of State Colin Powell last week made statements reducing the pressure on Qureia to disband militant groups as Israel has demanded. On Friday - over Israeli objections - Powell was meeting with the proponents of an informal Israeli-Palestinian peace treaty that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has called ``subversive.''

After an opening session Thursday with Suleiman, the Palestinian factions presented their own ideas in a Friday morning session and then began haggling over a compromise, according to one delegate at the secret talks.

According to the delegate, speaking on condition of anonymity, Yasser Arafat's mainstream Fatah faction and smaller allies favor a comprehensive truce that would call off all attacks inside Israel and on soldiers and Jewish settlers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. They would expect serious concessions from Israel in return.

The leading militant group Hamas, the smaller Islamic Jihad and three Syrian-based factions maintain there is no need for a cease-fire now.

Mohammed Nazzal, a senior Hamas official in Cairo for the talks, said talk of a truce ``is not objective and is illogical'' while Israel is persisting in military operations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

A cease-fire arranged by Egypt in June collapsed after seven weeks with Israel attacking Palestinians, and Palestinians resuming suicide bombings.

Hamas has left the door open for talks about a partial cease-fire that would just stop attacks on civilians inside Israel.

``The maximum that Hamas could give this time is an initiative to spare civilians the conflict,'' said a Palestinian official close to the group, speaking on condition of anonymity.

A senior member of Islamic Jihad in Gaza, also insisting on anonymity, said his faction could accept a cease-fire for a year or possibly more. He added that Islamic Jihad and Hamas agreed to be flexible on some of their demands, such as release of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel. But they insist Israel halt military operations, particularly attacks on militant leaders, he said.

One senior delegate said the groups are waiting to hear from Qureia, who was expected to join the talks this weekend, before deciding on the cease-fire.

``We want first to listen and to see whether he has any commitments from Israel'' on concessions, said Maher Taher of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

Israel has hinted it would respond positively to a Palestinian cease-fire. But Zalman Shoval, an adviser to Sharon, stressed Thursday that a truce must be total and be followed by the dismantling of Palestinian militant groups, a step Qureia has refused to consider.

No cease-fire is likely to take hold without the endorsement of Hamas, which along with the smaller Islamic Jihad has carried out most of the suicide bombings against Israelis during the more than three years of violence.

However, both militant groups are under pressure to accept a truce - from Egypt, Fatah and smaller groups who also are backing Fatah in hopes of gaining some say in negotiations with Israel.

The groups arguing for a total truce says it would require deep concessions by Israel, too - an end to settlement building and the construction of a security barrier along the frontier with Palestinian areas, as well as withdrawing troops from areas reoccupied since the outbreak of fighting in September 2000.

Guardian Unlimited Guardian Newspapers Limited 2003

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