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Israel Indicates It Would Honor Truce if Palestinians End Attacks - 2003-12-22

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has told the visiting Egyptian foreign minister that Israel will honor a cease-fire if Palestinian militant groups end their attacks.

An official in Mr. Sharon's office said the prime minister told Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher Monday that Israel would not sign an official agreement with militant groups but "will respond to quiet with quiet."

Egypt has been trying to get Palestinian groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad to declare a new cease-fire, so far without results. But Mr. Maher told reporters after today's meeting he is optimistic that talks between Cairo and the various groups will succeed.

He invited the Israeli prime minister to Egypt for a meeting with President Hosni Mubarak. The two leaders have never met since Mr. Sharon took office in 2001.

The Egyptian foreign minister also said Egypt remains committed to the internationally-backed "road map" plan for Middle East peace.

Mr. Sharon has stirred criticism at home and abroad by suggesting Israel may take unilateral steps to separate from the Palestinians if Middle East peace talks remain stalled.

In a statement released after the meeting, Mr. Sharon said Israel is committed to the road map, and hopes that Egypt will push the Palestinians to meet their commitments, including the dismantling of militant groups.