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Mideast talks resume amid violence

Sharon
Sharon says he will negotiate with the Palestinians if the violence stops  


JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Israeli and Palestinian security officials have held their first face-to-face talks in more than a month.

Although no agreement was reached Tuesday, another meeting could take place on Wednesday in Gaza, a Palestinian official said.

As the talks were under way, at least six people were killed in new violence, including two Israeli women and a suspected Palestinian suicide bomber.

Tuesday evening's meeting took place in Ramallah on the West Bank. Officials are seeking a way to curb the killing, restore peace in the region and find a way to implement the recommendations of former Senator George Mitchell's report on the Middle East.

The Palestinians said they wanted the report implemented as a total package while the Israelis wanted to discuss specific issues raised in the report, such as the call for a ceasefire, the official said.

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Sharon talks to the CNN World Report Conference about peace, Arafat and the Mitchell Report (May 29)

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The meeting came as Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon warned that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat must stop the violence if he wants to be a partner for peace.

Arafat, who is in Moscow for a meeting with Russian officials, warned that if action was not taken quickly, an "explosion" would rock the Middle East.

The agreement to resume security contacts came after U.S. envoy William Burns shuttled between Arafat and Sharon, seeking to persuade both sides to set a timetable for implementing the Mitchell report.

Sharon said he was ready to negotiate, but only after the violence stopped.

The Israelis have told Burns they want a ceasefire first, followed by confidence-building measures and then negotiations.

The Palestinians say they are pushing for a comprehensive package -- including a freeze on Israeli settlement activity -- that would be put in place immediately.

Sharon told CNN: "I know that Chairman Arafat is not here now, and that usually, when he leaves, he leaves behind instructions for more terror and violence.

"That's exactly what happened. He left yesterday afternoon or evening. Immediately, it was a new wave of terror. That's the way he's being doing for a long time.

"But I still expect that the free world will demand from Arafat to stop murder, to declare a ceasefire, so we'll be able to move forward. I would like to move forward in order to achieve peace in the region."

Arafat said he accepted both the Mitchell report and the Jordanian-Egyptian initiative, agreed to in Cairo last month, which calls for Israelis to pull back to its positions of September 2000, an end to the blockade on Palestinian areas, a blanket freeze on settlement construction and a resumption of security co-operation between the two sides.

Arafat said the Palestinians welcomed "all efforts aimed at bringing peace because if we don't act quickly, there will be an explosion, not only in Palestine, but the whole region."

He added: "I told (Russian) Foreign Minister (Igor) Ivanov that we officially accept the joint Jordanian-Egyptian initiative as well as the report of the Mitchell commission and view those documents as a basis for rapid and resolute actions towards ending the dangerous escalation of developments in the Middle East."

Ivanov said Russia would increase its diplomatic role in the Middle East by sending a special envoy to the Middle East as early as next week.

Ivanov said: "We speak in the same voice with the United States because Washington, too, is interested to stop the spiraling of tension and normalising the situation in the region.

Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told Arafat said Russia will send an envoy to the region
Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told Arafat Russia would send an envoy to the region  

"It is important not only that we speak in the same voice but that we also act in coordination with one another, which Russia is in favor of."

Meanwhile, Israeli Housing Minister Natan Sharansky told Israel Radio he had agreed construction bids for 496 new housing units in the existing Jewish settlement of Maale Adumim, outside Jerusalem, and 217 units in Alfei Menashe, near Tel Aviv.

In other developments, a group of militants calling themselves members of the Fatah Hawks kidnapped Joshua Hammer, the Jerusalem bureau chief of Newsweek, and Newsweek photographer Gary Knight in Gaza.

The militants held the two journalists for several hours on Tuesday before releasing them unharmed.

They said the kidnappings were a warning to the U.S. and British governments, whose policies they said were pro-Israel.

The group threatened further kidnappings and killings of U.S. and British citizens if the policies do not change.

State Department Deputy Spokesman Philip Reeker condemned the incident and called upon Palestinian Authority officials "to do what they can" to end further attacks.

The Palestinian Authority also condemned the incident, saying journalists and foreign nationals would be protected.

The Fatah organisation said the kidnappers were not members of its group but activists in the Palestinian intifada who were acting on their own.

The Israel Defense Force said a Palestinian wearing a "TNT belt" blew himself up at a roadblock near Gush Katif in Gaza. Two IDF soldiers were wounded in the blast.

At the same time, the IDF said, a Palestinian began throwing grenades at soldiers at the roadblock. Soldiers fired, killing the man, the IDF said. The IDF said they did not know if the Palestinians were acting together.

Two Israeli women died and three others were injured, Israeli authorities said, in a drive-by shooting near the settlement of Neve Daniel on the West Bank.

One woman died at the scene while the second woman died several hours later.

The Israeli army said Palestinian gunmen killed Gilad Zar, 41, near the Palestinian-controlled city of Nablus in the northern West Bank. Zar was in charge of settlement security in the area.

Israeli settlers poured into the streets of Hebron in response, throwing stones.

Palestinian officials said a Palestinian died after being wounded in a shoot-out with Israelis near Jericho. Israeli authorities said the man was wanted by them.

Late Tuesday, the United States issued a statement condemning the day's violence "in the strongest terms possible."

"These events are yet another reminder of the need for urgent action to end violence," the statement said.







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