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Islamic Militant Groups to Discuss Cease-Fire with Israel - 2003-11-21

Thirteen Islamic militant groups have agreed to meet in Cairo next week for talks on a cease-fire with Israel. This latest development is aimed at bringing an end to more than three years of Middle East violence.

The militant groups are to begin a week of meetings with Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia in the Egyptian capital to try to work out terms of a cease-fire arrangement more durable than the temporary truce that collapsed this summer after just six weeks.

Reports say the deal would include an agreement both the Palestinians and Israel would sign. Israeli officials have been saying recently that Israel is ready to stop targeted killings of militants and cease military operations in Palestinian areas if the Palestinians put an end to attacks on Israel.

If Israel were to agree to such an arrangement it would mark a major shift in its position. In the past, Israel has rejected such efforts saying it will have nothing to do with Palestinian militant groups which it describes as terrorist organizations. The U.S. State Department also considers the groups to be terrorist and has said they must be dismantled.

On Friday, Israel Radio reported that Mr. Qureia is ready to negotiate with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and that he is hopeful that a comprehensive peace deal could be possible within six months. The remarks were attributed to an interview with a Norwegian television station.

Meanwhile, the Haaretz newspaper reported Friday that Mr. Sharon is putting together what it termed "positive unilateral steps" for Israel to take to move peace efforts forward.

Quoting sources in the prime minister's office, Haaretz said a series of steps will be made public soon which will be "parallel, but not contradictory" to the internationally backed peace plan known as the "road map."

Mr. Sharon said Thursday that Israel is "committed to the road map" but said Israel does "not rule out unilateral steps."

The Sharon government is reported to have been looking for new peace initiatives in response to growing public criticism of it's efforts to end the violence and make peace with the Palestinians.(