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U.S. envoys on Mideast peace drive

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon  

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Two U.S. envoys met Israel's prime minister Tuesday at the start of a mission to try to end 14 months of Israeli-Palestinian violence.

Ariel Sharon greeted retired U.S. Marine General Anthony Zinni and Assistant Secretary of State William Burns at his Jerusalem office. The officials made no comments to reporters.

After the meeting, the visitors went on a helicopter tour of Israel and the West Bank, with Sharon outlining Israel's security needs.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has said Zinni, who arrived with Burns on Monday, will stay in the region for as long as it takes to cement a cease-fire and put a U.S.-backed truce-to-talks plan into motion.

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The talks began after Israeli forces completed a pullout Tuesday from Jenin, the last of six West Bank Palestinian towns that they invaded last month following the assassination of an Israeli Cabinet member, a spokesman for Israel Defense Forces told CNN.

A Palestinian security official dismissed the last pullback from Jenin as cosmetic, saying troops still had Jenin and other West Bank towns under blockade.

The talks also come in the wake of an admission by Israeli Defence Forces that it had left the device that exploded on Thursday that killed five Palestinian boys.

The explosive in the Khan Yunis refugee camp in southern Gaza was placed there by Israeli soldiers to thwart Palestinian attackers.

CNN's Jerrold Kessel says there have been arguments within the Israeli Cabinet about whether to negotiate before a cease-fire is in force.

While the Palestinians have been pressing for peace talks to resume immediately, Sharon has said Israel will not negotiate until there is a seven-day period of "quiet."

Sharon appointed former general, Meir Dagan -- instead of Foreign Minister Shimon Peres -- to head the negotiating team for talks with the U.S. envoys.

Peres has expressed the desire to be actively involved in the negotiations. But Sharon is said to want Peres, Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, and himself to guide the negotiating team led by Dagan, a security and counterterrorism expert.

Israel Radio reported that the Palestinian delegation that will deal with the U.S. envoys is expressing strong reservations about Dagan, who is viewed by many Palestinians as hawkish and a right-winger. Zinni and Burns were scheduled to meet Palestinian President Yasser Arafat on Wednesday.

CNN's Kessel said there was little confidence in the region about the U.S. peace mission, but the U.S. was pinning its hopes on Arafat, urging him to tackle what it calls terrorism by Palestinian militants.


• Israel Defense Forces
• Israeli government
• Palestine Red Crescent Society
• Palestinian Authority

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