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Israel, Palestinians Agree on Confidence Measures - 2001-09-26

Palestinian President Yasser Arafat and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres at a meeting in the Gaza Strip have agreed on a series of confidence-building measures aimed at ending a year of Israeli-Palestinian violence.

The long-awaited meeting between Mr. Arafat and Mr. Peres got underway at the Gaza International Airport as both sides seek ways to end the yearlong conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

The two men shook hands before the meeting, which is designed to turn a shaky cease-fire into a more permanent truce.

Mr. Peres and Mr. Arafat are expected to issue a joint statement outlining plans for implementing the cease-fire.

If the agreement holds, Israel is expected to begin easing its closure on the Palestinian territories.

Both sides are also expected to resume security coordination and hold a series of follow-up meetings between negotiators.

The talks began hours after an attack on an Israeli army base in southern Gaza in which several soldiers were wounded.

The Israeli army said a bomb exploded in a tunnel dug next to the army post.

Following the attack a firefight erupted between gunmen and Israeli soldiers and five Palestinians were wounded.

The fresh violence underscored how fragile any agreement will be. Previous cease-fires, including one brokered last June by the Director of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, George Tenet, have collapsed quickly.

The meeting between the Palestinian leader and the Israeli foreign minister came after intense diplomatic pressure from the United States and other countries.

Top U.S. officials have been on the phone with Israeli and Palestinian leaders repeatedly in recent days urging them to hold the truce talks.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has been insisting that the meetings could take place only after 48 hours of total calm.

Mr. Sharon has canceled previously scheduled sessions, arguing that Mr. Arafat is not trying hard enough to contain the violence.

Calm in the Middle East is seen as critical to American efforts to build an anti-terror coalition that includes Arab and Islamic countries after the attacks on New York and Washington.