A meeting between senior Israeli and Palestinians officials has ended a ban imposed on diplomatic contacts by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon nearly two-weeks ago. There are also reports that Israel has decided to stop targeted killing of Palestinian militants.
Top Sharon aide Dov Weisglass and Palestinian cabinet minister Saeb Erekat met for several hours in the latest of several indications that new efforts are under way to get peace talks back on track.
Mr. Erekat emerged from the meeting saying the two sides would talk again next week to continue preparations for a meeting between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Mr. Sharon. The date for such a meeting has not been fixed.
There are also reports that Israel has decided to stop the targeted killing of Palestinian militants - one of the major demands by militants before they would agree to a truce to end more than four years of Israeli-Palestinian violence.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas spent five days in Gaza talking with militant leaders and urging them to stop their attacks against Israeli targets.
Senior PLO official Fadel Tahboub told Israel Radio that Mr. Abbas can secure a cease-fire, but it will require Israel to stop military operations against Palestinian targets. He said he is encouraged by the news of Israel's decision, which was delivered to the Palestinian side by PLO official Abu Rdeineh.
"I think it is a good thing to hear that," he said. "We heard directly from Abu Rdeineh that they [Israel] will stop. I think [it is] very good step but we need more than that because our lives are very difficult for blocks [roadblocks] and attacks every day."
Israel has not specifically confirmed these reports, but officials have said that if calm prevails, Israel will respond in kind.
Mr. Tahboub said that Palestinian security forces are already at work and they have stopped some militants from carrying out attacks against Israel.
Mahmoud Abbas ordered the deployment of about 2,000 Palestinian police and security personnel last week in northern and central Gaza, to prevent militant attacks. He has ordered additional forces into southern Gaza as well.
Israeli and Palestinian security chiefs have been meeting to coordinate security in Gaza. But one such meeting was cut short when Israeli settlers attacked the Palestinian officers and vandalized their cars.
A spokeswoman for the settlers told Israel Radio the group was upset that Palestinian officers were allowed to come so close to the Neve Dekalim settlement.