Mideast Violence Complicates Peace Mission

A three-way security meeting headed by Zinni could take place as early as Monday, if the Israeli troops will withdraw first, Qureia said. U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney is slated to kick-off a visit in the region Monday with a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

In its largest military operation in a generation, Israel has entered more than a half-dozen Palestinian cities and refugee camps in the past two weeks in response to a wave of bombing and shooting attacks on Israeli targets.

Israel has since pulled out of all the areas except Bethlehem and Beit Jalla, neighboring West Bank towns just south of Jerusalem.

"Israel has offered a cease-fire, pulled back most of its forces in good faith, and this seems to be the answer Israel is receiving," Dore Gold, an adviser Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said in reference to the Palestinian attacks.

Before a Cabinet meeting, Sharon told reporters that Israel will enter political negotiations with the Palestinians only after a cease-fire is in place. "My main aim is to achieve as soon as possible a cease-fire."

Israel wants the Zinni mission to focus on halting Palestinian attacks. The Palestinians have demanded that Israel withdraw from Palestinian areas before substantive negotiations on a cease-fire begin.

"Why should we give anything in return for an invasion?" said Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo. "Israel should withdraw from the areas under Palestinian Authority control before starting any talks and negotiations."

The U.S. truce plan was negotiated last May by CIA director George Tenet and endorsed by both sides, though it has not been carried out.

It calls on the Palestinians to rein in militants and collect their weapons. Arafat has been reluctant to do that at a time when Israel has been carrying out attacks against Palestinian targets, including Arafat's own offices.

The U.S. plan also says the Israelis must pull back their forces to where they were before the fighting began. That would involve the dismantling of many military checkpoints and roadblocks in Palestinian areas.

In other violence Sunday, an apparent Palestinian suicide bomber prematurely blew himself up in a West Bank valley outside Jerusalem, Israeli authorities said.

And in what appeared to be another instance of vigilante justice, Palestinian gunmen shot a Palestinian man in the West Bank town of Hares who had reportedly sold land to Israeli settlers, Palestinian security officials said.

More than 190 Palestinians and more than 60 on the Israeli side have been killed since the beginning of March.

Copyright 2002 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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