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Israel Expected to Ease Palestinian Closure - 2001-10-13

Israel is expected to announce an easing of its closure of the Palestinian territories Sunday.

Israeli officials say the issue will be discussed at the weekly cabinet meeting Sunday, and it's expected that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will announce an easing of the closure of Palestinian areas at that time.

Israel has closed off the Palestinian territories for most of the past year, saying the move was necessary for security reasons. Palestinians have described the closure as collective punishment for their intifada.

Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres met with senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat and Palestinian parliamentary speaker Ahmed Qorei on Friday. Mr. Qorei said Mr. Peres promised steps to ease the Israeli closure on Palestinian towns and villages.

Despite continued sporadic clashes and shootings, violence between Israelis and Palestinians has dropped off sharply over the past few weeks. Since the September 11th terrorist attacks in the United States, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has thrown his support behind an Israeli-Palestinian cease-fire and has clamped down on anti-American demonstrations in the Palestinian territories. However, some Israeli officials say the Palestinian leader needs to do more to stop the violence and to arrest those believed responsible.

Mr. Arafat travels to London on Monday to discuss Middle East peace efforts and the U.S. and British action in Afghanistan.

Recent statements by Palestinian officials clearly indicate that they want the United States to come up with some new initiatives to help restart peace negotiations. Palestinians have welcomed recent statements by U.S. President Bush in support of a Palestinian state as part of a long-term peace arrangement.