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US Delegation Heads to Middle East in Effort to Salvage 'Road Map' - 2003-06-14

An American delegation is on its way to the Middle East in an effort to salvage the international peace plan that has been undermined by a week of violence in which more than 60 people have been killed.

The United States called for restraint by Israel and an end to Palestinian attacks after a string of violent incidents left the 33-month-old conflict on the verge of spiraling out of control.

President Bush's special envoy to the Middle East John Wolf is due to arrive this weekend. Originally, he was to lead a team of monitors who were to oversee implementation of confidence-building steps to be taken by both sides. But attacks by the Palestinian militant group Hamas, and Israeli reprisals against them, mean that Mr. Wolf is now more likely to focus on trying to lower the level of violence when he meets with Israeli and Palestinian officials.

There are signs that may be happening.

Israel Radio reported Saturday that Palestinian security chief Mohammed Dahlan is to meet with senior Israeli military officials. They are expected to discuss a proposal that Israel withdraw from parts of the Gaza Strip, to positions held before the outbreak of fighting in September 2000.

A senior Palestinian official was quoted by press reports as saying Israel also offered to halt military operations for three days to improve the atmosphere.

Still tensions remain high.

Hamas has rejected the so-called road map and vowed revenge for the Israeli missile attacks in Gaza, while Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is reported to have instructed his military chiefs to wipe out Hamas. Meanwhile, Palestinian officials say they are ready to take responsibility for security in areas handed back by Israel.

Information Minister Nabil Amr says the Palestinian leadership will provide security in any Palestinian area Israeli forces decide to leave.