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US National Security Advisor Arrives in Middle East


President Bush's national security advisor, Condoleezza Rice, is in the Middle East in the latest American effort to push forward the international peace plan, known as the "road map". The visit includes talks with the Palestinian and Israeli prime ministers.

Palestinian militant groups say they are close to suspending their attacks on Israel.

The news from senior Islamic Jihad official Mohammed al-Hindi comes one day after the leader of the main militant group, Hamas, said his organization had agreed on a three-month suspension of attacks.

A formal announcement is expected Sunday.

The truce reportedly will depend on Israel meeting several conditions, chiefly an end to Israel's targeted killings of militant leaders.

The three militant groups, Islamic Jihad, Hamas, and the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, have carried out hundreds of attacks on Israelis during the Palestinians' 33-month uprising against Israeli occupation. On Friday, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators reached an agreement for the withdrawal of Israeli troops from the Gaza Strip and the West Bank town of Bethlehem. Palestinian Authority police are to assume security responsibility in those areas.

Israel says it reserves the right to take action against militants if the Palestinian security forces do not.

The peace plan envisions the creation of a Palestinian state next to Israel by the end of 2005.

Despite the positive developments, violence continued Friday, with Israeli forces killing three Palestinian militants and a civilian during a raid in Gaza. One Israeli soldier was killed.

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