Palestinian Prime Minister heads to Cairo to promote declaration of truce with Israel
Palestinian Prime Minister, Ahmed Qurei, headed to Cairo on Thursday to join Egyptian-brokered truce talks, saying "In Cairo I hope we will succeed to reach a kind of mutual cease-fire with Israel." "I think discussions between all the Palestinian groups are going well ... I am optimistic, " Qurei told reporters before leaving the West Bank.
Earlier, twelve Palestinian factions, including Fatah and Hamas, on Thursday started talks in Cairo aimed at halting attacks on Israelis and reviving peace negotiations, participants said. However, they added that truce would be declared just if the United States and other Arab countries offer guarantees to the Israeli compliance with such a ceasefire.
Palestinian sources close to the talks also pointed out that much depends on the Israeli forces ceasing its military operations in the occupied Palestinian territories, as well as assassinations, movement restrictions and collective punishment measures against the civilian population.
According to The AP, delegates to the talks said they were weighing two proposals: a partial cease-fire halting strikes on civilians inside Israel's territory, and a broader truce that would require more significant Israeli concessions.
On Thursday, the delegates of the various factions met in the presence of Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, who last June brokered a Palestinian truce that was never recognized by Israel and collapsed in August.
Suleiman told the delegates that the United States was anxious to achieve a breakthrough in an election year and that a truce agreement now could further feed growing opposition among Israelis to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's policies, one delegate said.
"It is possible to take advantage of these conditions to come up with a cease-fire that the Israeli side will feel compelled to commit to," the general was quoted as saying. "This requires that the groups think about the political moves to stop the aggression against the Palestinian people," he was quoted as saying.
On his part, the head of the political wing of Hamas, Khaled Meshaal, said in an interview with an Arabic newspaper ahead of the meeting that the Palestinians had no interest in making "free concessions" to Israel.
"The Palestinians already declared a truce several months ago which failed because the enemy pursued its crimes and refused to release prisoners," Meshaal told Al-Hayat newspaper.
"Consequently, we have no interest in speaking again of a truce and offering free concessions" to Israel, said Meshaal. "We must stand by our right to resist the occupation, defend our people and unite Palestinian ranks. It's on these issues that dialogue in Cairo must be focused," Meshaal conveyed.
"There is a mistake in assessment by some people who think that there is a change in (Israeli Prime Minister Ariel) Sharon's attitude, to which one must respond with a new truce," the Hamas official said.
He said the Israeli government has not changed its hardline position toward the Palestinians.
Meanwhile, at least one Palestinian woman was wounded Thursday morning after Israeli forces opened heavy fire at the Al Satar Algharby neighborhood in the Gaza Strip city of Khan Younis, Palestinian sources said.
Local medical sources said Kolthom Al-Astal, 40, was wounded with a live bullet in her back and that she was in a moderate condition. Locals said that Israeli soldiers, stationed at the vicinity of the Jewish settlement of Gani Tal, opened fire at nearby Palestinian houses in the Al Satar Algharby neighborhood, wounding Al-Astal, whose home is 300 meters away from the settlement. (Albawaba.com)
© 2003 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)
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