Accessibility links

Breaking News

Palestinian PM to Meet Militants in Bid for Cease-Fire - 2003-11-16

Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia says he hopes to open talks soon with Islamic factions on a cease-fire with Israel.

Mr. Qureia says he hopes to meet with Hamas and Islamic Jihad to reach an agreement to halt violence against Israelis.

Both groups have admitted killing hundreds of Israelis through suicide bombings and other attacks. They are listed by the State Department as terrorist organizations.

Mr. Qureia says the key to dialogue with the two groups is likely to depend on Egyptian mediation. He is to to meet Monday in the West Bank city of Ramallah with Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, who helped negotiate a short-lived unilateral ceasefire by Palestinian militants earlier this year.

Palestinian President Yasser Arafat says Mr. Suleiman will propose new ways to restore calm to the region after more than three years of bloodshed.

But Palestinian officials say the proposals ignore Israel's demand that the Palestinian Authority disarm and dismantle militant groups. Israel insists that this is a necessary first step before it engages in cease-fire talks and a resumption of formal peace negotiations.

Mr. Qureia says that at this point he is only interested in dialogue, not confrontation, with groups such as Hamas.

The spiritual leader and founder of Hamas, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, says he has no objection to meeting with Mr. Qureia, but says now is not the right time for a truce.

Meanwhile, Israel is continuing its military operations against suspected Palestinian militants. Israeli forces killed one Palestinian in the Gaza Strip and captured another suspected of running a weapons smuggling operation between Egypt and Gaza.

Palestinian officials said the detained man, Bassam Abu Libdeh, is a clothes merchant in the southern Gaza town of Rafah, with no known links to militants. The Israeli army issued a statement claiming Mr. Libdeh is a central figure overseeing a network of underground tunnels used to move arms from Egypt into Gaza.

The army says he was wounded and another Palestinian suspect was shot dead after attempting to escape arrest, during the operation. Israeli soldiers then demolished Mr. Libdeh's home before withdrawing from the town.