A total of 27 Palestinians were arrested overnight in ongoing operations by Israeli forces in Palestinian territories. The arrests come as negotiations are reported to be continuing among Palestinian factions for a possible halt in attacks on Israeli civilians.
A senior activist in the militant Tanzim faction was taken into custody in the village of Yata on suspicion of taking part in shooting attacks in which five Israelis were killed this week.
The roundup of suspects netted another large group of what Israel radio says are Hamas militants who had gathered in a West Bank wedding hall for the evening meal breaking the daily Ramadan fast.
Israeli media, meanwhile, are reporting ongoing talks between Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement and the Palestinian militant group Hamas. They are said to be discussing a possible suspension of suicide attacks against Israeli civilians.
Israel radio says Israeli officials are denying reports that Egypt's chief of intelligence, Omar Suleiman, has informed President Moshe Katsav that Hamas and Fatah have agreed to a halt in terror attacks Israel. The radio says that Mr. Katsav was briefed about the meetings in Cairo between the two groups but says no such agreement has been reached.
The Israeli daily newspaper Ha'aretz also quotes sources in both Palestinian organizations as denying that Hamas has agreed to suspend terror attacks for a period of three to four months. However, the paper quotes a senior Fatah official as saying the Hamas leadership has promised to give serious thought to the proposal.
The paper says the issue is to be discussed by the Hamas leadership and by a joint Fatah-Hamas committee that is to be established as a result of the Cairo talks. Ha'aretz quotes Hamas sources as saying the committee could meet within the next few days.
Mr. Suleiman, the Egyptian intelligence chief, is also reported to have briefed both Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat on the Cairo talks.
The Palestinian Authority issued a statement on Thursday calling on Israel to refrain from any action that might scuttle an agreement for an end to attacks on Israeli civilians.
Palestinian officials have said a similar agreement between Hamas and Fatah was under discussion four months ago but fell apart after Israeli warplanes attacked senior Hamas activist Salah Shehadeh in Gaza, killing him and 15 other people.