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Israeli General Says Quick Cease-Fire with Palestinians Possible - 2003-12-26

The head of Israel's Army, General Moshe Ya'alon, predicted in an interview Friday that it will be possible to reach a cease-fire with Palestinians within weeks. At the same time, he called on the government to do more to improve living conditions for the Palestinians.

General Ya'alon says that while the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will persist for years to come, he believes the worst is over.

He says that what he called the peak of the Palestinian violent struggle has been reached.

He says the time is ripe for at least a temporary truce, and 2004 could be the quietest year since the Palestinian uprising began more than three years ago.

General Ya'alon made his remarks to the mass-selling Hebrew daily newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth.

The interview was published just hours after a Palestinian suicide bomber killed four Israelis near Tel Aviv and five Palestinians were killed in an Israeli air strike in Gaza.

His optimism about the possibility of a truce also came in spite of failed attempts by Egyptian mediators to broker an agreement in Cairo earlier this month.

Palestinian factions could not agree on the terms of a cease-fire and the talks collapsed. Egypt is continuing with its efforts but so far no deal has been reached.

In his interview, General Ya'alon also repeated his position, first made public in October, that Israel must do more to ease military restrictions on Palestinian towns and cities in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

General Ya'alon said it was in Israel's own interest to do everything possible to improve the life of ordinary Palestinians.

Meanwhile, Israel is facing more public anger over its building of a security barrier in the West Bank.

Israeli troops opened fire on a demonstration against the project on Friday, wounding several of the protesters.