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Egyptian Envoy Seeks Arafat's Help for Peace Agreement - 2004-01-01


A top Egyptian envoy is being sent to the West Bank to seek Palestinian President Yasser Arafat's help in forging a cease-fire agreement. The move is the latest attempt by Egypt to persuade Palestinian militias to suspend attacks against Israel.

Osama el-Baz, top advisor to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, arrived for talks with Mr. Arafat at his headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

Mr. el-Baz's intervention follows the failure of other top Egyptian officials and Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia to forge a truce agreement among the various Palestinian factions.

Mr. Qureia, who took office in October, had hoped to present such an accord to the Israelis in an effort to resume long-stalled peace talks.

But he and the Egyptian Intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman, failed to win the backing of the Palestinian groups when they held discussions on the issue in Cairo last month.

The failure of Palestinian truce efforts is being held up as one of the major reasons for the postponement of the first summit between Mr. Qureia and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Mr. Sharon says he is willing to meet with Mr. Qureia and to re-start peace talks. At the same time, the Israeli leader has warned that, if the Palestinian leadership fails to make any progress in negotiations, he will take unilateral steps to bolster his nation's security.

Mr. Sharon says that Israel will wait only a few months before implementing a plan to unilaterally separate the country from the Palestinians.

Meanwhile, Israel is continuing to carry out military operations against suspected Palestinian militants in the West Bank.

Israeli troops tightened a curfew over the city of Nablus, as they conducted house-to-house searches for Palestinian fugitives.

The Israeli army has conducted a series of raids in Nablus in recent weeks, which it describes as a hotbed of Palestinian terrorism.

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