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Israelis, Palestinians to Discuss Gradual Cease-Fire

Israel and the Palestinians are expected to meet soon to discuss a gradual cease-fire agreement to end nearly two years of violence.

Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer is preparing to hold a new round of talks with senior Palestinian officials, including the Interior Minister, Abdel Razeq Yihiye, who is in charge of security. Mr. Ben-Eliezer is reportedly ready to offer to pull Israeli troops back from areas of the West Bank, as well as the Gaza Strip.

Under the plan, Palestinian security forces would resume responsibility in these areas and commit themselves to halting attacks against Israelis. The two sides held talks on the proposals two weeks ago but failed to reach an agreement.

The Palestinians had demanded that the plan include the West Bank city of Ramallah, where Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has headquarters. While Israel has yet to agree to this demand, it is prepared to withdraw from two other West Bank cities, Bethlehem and Hebron.

Since June, Israel has placed troops in and around most of the Palestinian self-rule areas of the West Bank, in an effort to prevent more Palestinian groups from carrying out terrorist attacks, including suicide bombings.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon insists that he has no intention of stationing the troops in Palestinian areas longer than is necessary to safeguard the lives of his citizens. His office issued a statement saying that the negotiations aimed at reaching a cease-fire agreement are being conducted with his full support.