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Peres: Israel Should Re-Start Peace Talks

Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres has met Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat on the sidelines of an economic conference in Spain. Before leaving for the conference, Mr. Peres said in an interview that Israel should resume peace negotiations with the Palestinians despite continuing violence.

Foreign Minister Peres, in an interview with the daily Ma'ariv newspaper, struck a conciliatory tone before leaving for the economic summit and discussions with Mr. Arafat.

Mr. Peres says Israel should re-start peace talks with the Palestinians, despite more than 13 months of bloodshed. As the foreign minister put it, "you can't stop the fire with fire alone."

Mr. Peres says he also favors evacuating some Jewish settlements in the Palestinian territories. He says there are several settlements that are subject to gunfire from Palestinian militants "and have no future."

Mr. Peres, whose views differ sharply from his coalition partner, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, announced earlier this week that he would meet with Mr. Arafat. He also confirmed he is working on a new peace plan for renewing talks with the Palestinians.

Prime Minister Sharon announced this week he is forming a negotiating team with Mr. Peres, but has stated repeatedly there will be no talks until there is a complete end to violence.

Mr. Peres last met with Mr. Arafat in late September and both men agreed to a cease-fire that has failed to halt the conflict.

An Israeli cabinet minister was assassinated in October by Palestinian militants, prompting Israeli military incursions into Palestinian-ruled territory.

Earlier this week, Israeli soldiers pulled out of Bethlehem and the adjacent village of Beit Jala, but troops remain inside several Palestinian areas in the West Bank.

Israeli commentators say Prime Minister Sharon wants to begin withdrawing from those areas early next week, if Palestinians pledge to maintain security.

Israeli analysts say Mr. Sharon, who has been under U.S. pressure to pull forces out of re-occupied territory, is laying the groundwork for a visit to the United States later this month.

The United States is seeking to calm the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in an effort to build support from Arab and Islamic nations for the international coalition against terrorism.