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Palestinians, Israelis to Resume Cease-fire Talks Tuesday


High-level talks between Israeli and Palestinian officials on a proposed cease-fire agreement are scheduled to resume late Tuesday.

The meeting follows the disclosure that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon met secretly last week with the speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council, Ahmed Qureia.

These were the first face-to-face contacts between Mr. Sharon and a senior Palestinian official in nearly a year.

The two agreed to send other officials to continue discussions on a phased withdrawal of Israeli troops from Palestinian self-rule areas of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The main participants in Tuesday's meeting are the Palestinian Authority's interior minister, Hani al-Hassan, and the director-general of Mr. Sharon's office, Dov Weisglass.

A report in the Palestinian al-Quds newspaper Tuesday said the two sides would discuss security arrangements for a possible cease-fire and the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Tulkarem, Jenin and Qalqilyah, towns located in the northern West Bank.

Responsibility for law and order in those towns would then be turned over to the Palestinian security forces.

If the ceasefire holds, Israeli forces would then pull out of Bethlehem, also in the West Bank, and from areas of the Gaza Strip, allowing the Palestinian police to take up positions in these places.

Israeli troops seized control of most West Bank towns in June last year, following a campaign of Palestinian suicide bombings.

In the months since then, Israeli troops have withdrawn from Bethlehem and some of the other towns but have returned after Palestinian militants launched more terrorist attacks.

Tuesday's talks are the latest effort to end more than two years of bloodshed that have left over 2,000 people dead.

The discussions are taking place at a time of increased security. Late Monday, the Israeli government imposed a full closure on the West Bank and Gaza Strip, citing intelligence warnings of nearly 50 planned terror attacks.

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