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Palestinians Meet in Cairo to Discuss Cease-Fire - 2003-12-04

Representatives of Palestinian groups are meeting in Cairo, where they are expected to discuss the possibility of halting attacks against Israel. Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia wants to secure a promise from militant groups to halt their attacks in an effort to end Israeli-Palestinian violence.

The last time the Palestinian factions met in Cairo was in June. That meeting produced a cease-fire agreement that, according to the Palestinians, lasted 51 days.

But the hard-line Palestinian movement, Hamas, claims Israel violated the agreement when it assassinated a top Hamas official, an official Israel said was responsible for directing suicide bombings.

The meeting of the 12 Palestinian factions that began Thursday in Cairo is expected to discuss, among other things, a possible new cease-fire.

However, Hamas political bureau member Mohammed Nazzal says his organization wants no part of such discussion.

"We are not ready to do it again," said Mr. Nazzal. "And, if anybody wants to make a cease-fire, we believe they should request it from Israeli occupation, not from Hamas, because the aggression on Hamas and al-Jihad and on Fatah and all Palestinians is continuing from the Israeli occupation."

Officials with Hamas, an organization on the State Department's list of terrorist groups, say the latest discussion should center on generating greater Palestinian unity with an eye toward protecting and gaining Palestinian rights.

Mr. Nazzal says the issue of a cease-fire should be decided by the Israelis.

"Let them announce that they are ready to stop, we will talk about it," he said. "But if Israel is ready to stop, this is the question. They are not ready to stop."

Thursday, Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Zeev Boim said Israel would consider scaling back its military operations in the West Bank, if the Palestinians agree to a cease-fire.

On Monday, a representative from the mainstream Palestinian Fatah movement, Zacharia al-Agha, was quoted as saying he was hopeful the meeting in Cairo would lead to the calling of a truce with Israel.

Palestinian officials have been trying to persuade the factions to end their hostilities in an effort to secure a mutual cease-fire with Israel.