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Arafat Issues Cease-Fire Order - 2001-09-17

Palestinian President Yasser Arafat says he has issued new orders to observe a cease-fire with Israel. Despite the call to end the violence, one Palestinian was killed and at least 13 wounded in continuing fighting with Israeli soldiers.

Mr. Arafat says he issued "strong and clear instructions for a full commitment to a cease-fire."

In a letter Monday to the Israeli people marking the Jewish New Year, Mr. Arafat says he hopes the Israeli government will "respond to this call for peace" and will agree to a truce.

Mr. Arafat's letter came one day after Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said if there are two days of complete calm, he will authorize talks between Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Mr. Arafat.

The United States has pushed for high-level truce talks to end almost a year of Israeli-Palestinian bloodshed as it tries to form an international alliance to confront terrorism following last week's devastating attacks in New York and Washington.

Mr. Sharon says Israel will not make concessions to the Palestinians to help U.S. efforts to recruit Arab countries for such a coalition.

In continued fighting, one Palestinian was killed by Israeli soldiers in the southern Gaza Strip near the border with Egypt.

Palestinian officials reported two other people died from wounds sustained in earlier fighting.

A fierce gun battle erupted near the West Bank town of Ramallah. Witnesses say an Israeli tank fired on Palestinian buildings in the area, hitting homes, a mosque and a kindergarten.

The Israeli army says the incident began when Palestinians opened fire on a military post, wounding one soldier.

The Palestinians, meanwhile, have denounced Israel's decision to establish a 30 kilometer long "closed military area" in the northern West Bank designed to keep Palestinian militants from entering Israel.

The area, which will be off limits to all Palestinians expect those living in the zone, covers territory where suicide bombers have recently crossed from the West Bank into the Jewish state.

Palestinians say Mr. Arafat has complained to President Bush about the plan.

Security is tight as Israelis begin Jewish New Year celebrations, which continue through Wednesday.

Israeli security forces are on high alert for attacks by Islamic militants over the holiday.

Thousands of police, assisted by soldiers, are patrolling public and commercial centers in the main cities.

More than 800 people have been killed, mostly Palestinians, since the uprising against Israeli occupation began nearly one-year ago.