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Israel Declines Role in Emerging Palestinian Truce Plan - 2003-12-07

Israel says it will take no formal part in a conditional truce developed by Palestinian militant groups. Under the agreement, Palestinian militias would halt suicide bombings inside Israel, but could continue to target Jewish settlers and soldiers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Israeli officials said Sunday they would not agree to be party to the proposed cease-fire reached by Palestinian militant groups at a meeting in the Egyptian capital, Cairo.

The truce includes a tacit agreement that Palestinians would stop targeting Israelis inside the Jewish state.

The document, however, makes no mention of refraining from attacks against Jewish settlers or Israeli soldiers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The cease-fire agreement is meant to set the stage for the first face-to-face talks between the Palestinian prime minister, Ahmed Qureia, and his Israeli counterpart, Ariel Sharon.

The Palestinian foreign affairs minister, Nabil Shaath, told Israel radio that the backing of the militant groups for a truce was an important step before such a meeting took place. "We would like to go to Mr. Sharon with a commitment from all the Palestinians in our hands empowering us in terms of the cease-fire," said Mr. Shaath.

While rejecting the truce, Israeli officials emphasized they are willing to scale back military operations in the territories, provided the relative quiet of recent weeks is maintained.

At the same time, both Israeli and Palestinian officials continued to prepare for a meeting between Mr. Sharon and Mr. Qureia.

The chief of staff of Mr. Qureia's office, Hassan Abu Libdeh, and the Palestinian minister for negotiations, Saeb Erekat, met Sunday with the chief of Mr. Sharon's bureau, Dov Weisglass, to work out an agenda for the talks.