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Israel Raids West Bank as Unofficial Peace Accord Discussed - 2003-12-01

Israeli security forces launched a major overnight raid into the West Bank city of Ramallah, killing at least two Palestinian militants and arresting dozens of others. The raid comes as Israeli and Palestinian officials and negotiators gather in Geneva to sign an unofficial peace plan hammered out in more than two years of secret negotiations.

Dozens of Israeli tanks, jeeps and armored personnel carriers swept into Ramallah as troops searched house to house for Palestinian militants.

The apparent target was Hamas, the group that has claimed responsibility for numerous attacks against Israelis over the past three years. The military said the raid was part of ongoing anti-terrorist operations.

The security sweep came as Palestinian and Israeli politicians, officials and peace activists prepared to head to Geneva to sign an unofficial peace initiative, known as the Geneva Accords.

The plan has stirred international interest and nods of approval, including from members of the Bush administration. Negotiators are describing it as a model for any permanent Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. It deals with some of the thorniest issues for both sides and has Israelis giving up land and Jewish settlements and Palestinians effectively giving up the right of return of refugees to what is now the state of Israel.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has rejected the plan. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has not endorsed it publicly, but he has allowed some of his officials to travel to Geneva for its signing.

At the same time, American envoy William Burns is in the region. He's met with Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia and Israeli Prime Minister Sharon to try to revive Middle East peace efforts under the road map peace plan.

Mr. Burns told the Palestinians they must crack down on terrorism and violence and he's talked to the Israelis about steps they must take, including the dismantling of unauthorized Jewish settlements in Palestinian areas.

Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz is reported to have ordered the dismantling of a half dozen such outposts, most of them uninhabited. There are dozens of outposts set up without government approval, which Israel is supposed to dismantle under Phase One of the road map peace plan.

Israeli and Palestinian officials are also meeting to prepare for a possible meeting between Prime Minister Sharon and Prime Minister Qureia.