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Israeli Soldiers Search for Militants; Talks Continue on Gaza - 2004-06-25


Israeli forces are conducting a large security sweep in the West Bank in search of suspected Palestinian militants. At the same time, American Middle East envoy William Burns is in the region talking with officials on both sides about the planned Israeli pullout from the Gaza Strip.

In what's reported to be the largest security operation in Nablus within the last year, Israeli troops are conducting house-to-house searches and detaining some residents.

The military has cordoned off the Old City of Nablus with concrete barriers and barbed wire. Soldiers handed out leaflets to residents saying they were looking for a half-dozen suspected militants and possible weapons workshops in the city.

The operation was prompted in part by the arrest of a young Palestinian earlier in the week, who said he'd been recruited to carry out a suicide attack in Jerusalem.

On the diplomatic front, talks are continuing about Israel's planned withdrawal from the Gaza Strip by the end of 2005. Representatives of the so-called Quartet met on Thursday in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Taba. The Quartet is made up of the United States, the Europeans, Russia and the United Nations and is trying to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.

The group welcomed Egypt's offer to retrain Palestinian security forces and help ensure security in Gaza after the Israeli withdrawal.

The meeting also focused on a World Bank report on the Palestinian economy, which stated that Israel's withdrawal from Gaza could deepen the economic crisis there, if Israel does not also lift its blockade of the area.

Among those attending the Taba meeting was U.S. Assistant Secretary of State William Burns, who also met later Thursday with Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom.

Mr. Burns meets Friday with Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and is due to meet with Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia on Saturday.

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