U.S. envoy Anthony Zinni is back in Israel in another attempt to work out a cease-fire between Israel and the Palestinians. A few hours before he arrived on Thursday, Israeli troops eased their military blockades of several Palestinian towns and villages in the West Bank and Gaza.
The U.S. envoy will meet Friday with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, in another attempt to move the two sides back toward peace talks.
A few hours before Mr. Zinni arrived on Thursday, Israel eased its military roadblocks around several Palestinian cities and pulled its troops out of several cities, as well. The moves followed a drop in the violence that has engulfed the area for the past 15 months.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Gidon Meir says the actions were a gesture of goodwill toward Mr. Zinni's mission. "We have no intention whatsoever to stay in any Palestinian city if there is no violence that comes out of that city," he stressed. "The second reason is a gesture of goodwill to show General Zinni that we have good intentions and we really want to go back to the negotiating table in order to implement the Tenet agreement and the Mitchell accord."
Washington had encouraged Israel to ease its restrictions on Palestinians in recognition of the reduction in violence. Still, Prime Minister Sharon insists on seven days of absolute quiet before considering a resumption of peace talks.
Palestinians say they will show Mr. Zinni how much they have done to curb the violence, in contrast to Mr. Sharon's complaints they are not doing enough.
For Palestinian political analyst Mahdi Abdul Hadi, the U.S. envoy must press Israel to do more too. "He's coming here to make sure the Palestinians are delivering the goods, but he's not making any pressure on the Israelis to do the same thing," he said.
Many Palestinians remain skeptical about Mr. Zinni's chances for achieving a cease-fire agreement on this his second trip to the region.
Mr. Zinni's first effort to broker a cease-fire early in December was disrupted by a spate of violence that led Israel to intensify its military operations in Palestinian-ruled areas.