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Israeli Military Chief Warns of Fragile Truce with Palestinian Militants - 2003-07-29

The head of Israel's Defense Forces says he fears that a truce announced by Palestinian militant groups will not last much longer. His warning came Tuesday as Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, prepared to hold talks with U.S. President George Bush at the White House.

Israel's chief of staff of the defense forces, General Moshe Ya'alon, said Tuesday he is, as he put it, "counting the days before the next wave of Palestinian violence erupts."

He said a three-month ceasefire announced by Islamic groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad last month has little prospect of developing into a permanent peace.

General Ya'alon's statements reinforce the widely held suspicion within Israel's military establishment that Palestinian militants intend to use the truce merely to regroup and launch more attacks.

His comments, which were broadcast on Israel's Army radio, also appeared to underline the continuing mistrust between the two sides and the challenges faced by the United States in promoting peace in the region.

For their part, Palestinian officials said it was up to the Bush administration to maintain pressure on Israel to implement the international road map to peace in the Middle East. The plan, which was drawn up by the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations, calls for an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state by 2005.

On Friday, Mr. Bush expressed his concern that Israel could jeopardize American efforts to help reach this goal by its building of a security fence in the West Bank.

Israel media reported Tuesday that Mr. Sharon intends to tell Mr. Bush that the outline of the barrier will not be changed. At the same time, Mr. Sharon would offer that construction of one section of the fence that particularly angers the Palestinians could be postponed for another six months.

The section in question is to be erected near the Jewish settlement of Ariel in the north of the West Bank.

Palestinian officials fear that Israel plans to use the fence to seal off the settlement and to claim the area should become part of the Jewish state.

Israeli officials deny that it is building the fence to delineate the future borders of a Palestinian State. They say the barrier is intended to stop Palestinian groups crossing from the West Bank into Israel to carry out more terror attacks, including suicide bombings.