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US Envoy Continues Mideast Cease-fire Talks - 2002-03-26

U.S. Middle East envoy Anthony Zinni is continuing efforts to mediate a cease-fire between Israel and the Palestinians. Meanwhile, the Jewish state is waiting until the last minute to decide if Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat will be allowed to travel to an Arab summit.

Mr. Zinni met with Palestinian officials as both sides considered details of a cease-fire proposal designed to end nearly 18 months of bloodshed.

Following the meeting, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said no agreement was reached, but discussions will continue.

Mr. Erekat says the Palestinians will only accept proposals that link security talks with political discussions.

Israeli and Palestinian officials say they are seeking clarifications on a compromise truce plan proposed by Mr. Zinni earlier this week.

The two sides have disagreed over the timing and the order of steps to be taken if a cease-fire is announced.

It is not clear if a truce could be reached before an Arab summit opens Wednesday in Beirut.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who has confined Palestinian Chairman Yasser Arafat to the West Bank since December, says there must be agreement on a cease-fire before Mr. Arafat will be allowed to attend the summit.

Mr. Erekat says the Palestinians reject Mr. Sharon's conditions. "He is trying to use blackmail, or insinuated blackmail, in order for the Palestinians to accept the Israeli plan in exchange for Arafat's departure for Beirut. This is not acceptable," he said.

Israeli government spokesman Ra'anan Gissin says Mr. Arafat must agree to a truce. "If Arafat leaves without complying with any of those demands, this summit meeting, instead of becoming a summit for peace, will be a summit of terror and that of course is against the interests of Israel, the United States, and I believe also the Arab world," he said.

As the talks continued, two Palestinians died when their car exploded at a police roadblock near Jerusalem's largest shopping mall.

The Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, a group linked to Mr. Arafat's Fatah faction, claimed responsibility for the blast.

The mall was crowded with shoppers preparing for the Jewish Passover holiday, which begins at sundown Wednesday.