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Palestinian Cease-Fire Talks Produce Disagreement - 2003-12-06

Negotiations in Cairo involving more than a dozen Palestinian factions and aimed at producing a comprehensive cease-fire offer to Israel have so far produced only sharp disagreement.

The Palestinian prime minister, Ahmed Qureia, was expected in Cairo to take part in final discussions with the diverse Palestinian factions that are debating a possible truce agreement.

But Mr. Qureia may need all his powers of persuasion to produce any positive result. Even before the talks began on Thursday, the militant groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad had rejected the idea of a unilateral cease-fire.

They insisted that any truce would have to be matched by similar actions on the part of the Israelis. And by Saturday, both seemed to be holding firm to that position.

A leader of Palestinian President Yasser Arafat's mainstream Fatah movement was quoted as saying the talks had reached stalemate.

The negotiations, brokered by Egyptian intelligence chief General Omar Suleiman, have been aimed at producing a comprehensive cease-fire on all attacks in both Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Fatah hopes that a Palestinian-initiated comprehensive cease-fire would result in U.S. and international pressure on Israel to reciprocate. Egyptian officials have argued that the timing is right for such a move.

Israel has insisted that any truce must be total and that it must be followed by the dismantling of militant Palestinian groups.

General Suleiman is scheduled to travel to Washington next week, ideally with a concrete cease-fire proposal in hand.

The negotiations are just the latest Egyptian attempt to bring all Palestinian factions into an agreement. A similar summit last January failed, while a second attempt in June produced a cease-fire agreement that lasted just 51 days.