Mideast diplomacy moves to Washington
JERUSALEM -- Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres is due in the United States to discuss peace efforts following inconclusive talks in Jordan and Egypt.
Underlining the urgency of the situation, violence in the region has continued, with a Palestinian killed when the car he was driving exploded in the West Bank on Sunday.
The local Israeli army commander said the man was a suicide bomber intent on blowing up the vehicle alongside a school bus near Nablus.
The same day in Gaza, Israeli troops and Palestinian gunmen traded fire at three locations, leaving eight Palestinians and an Israeli soldier wounded.
During his visit to the U.S., Peres is due to meet U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan in New York on Monday and President George W. Bush in Washington on Thursday.
After an earlier hands-off approach, the Bush administration has recently adopted a more active role in the Israeli-Palestinian crisis.
Two weeks ago it condemned an Israeli reoccupation of a corner of Gaza, with Israeli forces quickly withdrawing -- although it strongly denied this was a result of international pressure.
Continuing shuttle diplomacy on Monday will also see Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon meet European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana, who has already discussed an Egyptian-Jordanian peace proposal with Palestinian officials.
Peres says Israelis will take steps to ease restrictions imposed on the Palestinian territories.
Speaking after a meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, he said: "We are going to take steps ... immediate, unconditional steps -- to facilitate the life of the people in the territories in every possible way."
Since the intifada, which has claimed nearly 500 lives -- the vast majority Palestinian -- began in September, Palestinian workers have been barred from jobs in Israel, hitting the economy in the West Bank and Gaza.
Peres' announcement came after talks in Cairo, followed by discussions in the Jordanian resort of Aqaba, on the joint Egyptian-Jordanian initiative to end the violence.
No agreement was reached but talk of a cessation of violence -- an Israeli precondition for a resumption of peacemaking -- was in the air.
Peres told reporters after his meeting with Mubarak: "There are still issues that we have to clarify and I don't want to claim that everything is OK and everything is agreed.
"But I can say that an agreement on how to handle the situation was really achieved."
Under the Egyptian-Jordanian plan, a cease-fire would follow an Israeli freeze on settlement construction, and Israeli troops would withdraw to positions held before the uprising began.
It also calls on Palestinians to stop violence against Israelis.
Sharon has insisted that existing settlements should be expanded according to population needs.
He has also emphasised that he wants an interim peace agreement to be implemented over an extended period of time, and not a final status deal.
Mideast cease-fire still elusive
Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs
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