The United States said on Tuesday it would hold high-level talks with Palestinians this week in a new effort to stop Middle East violence. The U.S. State Department confirmed Secretary of State Colin Powell and other officials would meet with a Palestinian delegation on Thursday and Friday.
It would be the first such talks since President George W. Bush urged the Palestinians in June to replace President Yasser Arafat by electing new leaders. The talks would focus "on a wide range of issues including Palestinian civil reform efforts, a renewal of security cooperation, progress on political dialogue," spokesman Philip Reeker said.
A senior Palestinian official told AFP that a Palestinian delegation would head to Washington Wednesday morning to meet with US officials.
Meanwhile, Palestinians sent conflicting signals over an Israeli proposal at the meeting late on Monday to ease some restrictions on Palestinians in the Gaza Strip in a trial gesture to restore security cooperation and ease hardships on Palestinians. The Palestinian cabinet was considering the plan Tuesday in the West Bank town of Ramallah, but Ahmed Abdel-Rahman, an aide to Arafat, said the "Gaza-first" proposal was "totally rejected".
Additionally, Palestinian information minister Yasser Abed Rabbo doubted the effectiveness of non-comprehensive withdrawals. "It's not logical and not possible that a withdrawal take place in one location while in another the killing and destruction is still going on," he said.
According to Israeli reports, however, Palestinian Interior Minister Abdel Razeq Yehiyeh demanded from Israel’s Defense Minister, Benjamin Ben-Eliezer that any Israeli withdrawal from the territories begin with Ramallah - the center of the PA and location of Yasser Arafat's headquarters. Palestinian officials said the plan could also apply to Bethlehem in the southern West Bank if the situation there remained calm.
On their part, Palestinian Islamist factions lashed out at the new Israeli proposal. Hamas dismissed Ben Eliezer's proposal. "The Palestinians reject this plan. Our mission is to resist the occupation, and such a sedative plan aims to calm criticism by the international community and gain time," said a Gaza Hamas leader, Ismail Abu Shanab.
An Islamic Jihad leader Khaled al-Batsh, charged the plan was an attempt "to end the resistance of the Palestinians against the Israeli occupation."
In a related development, Major General Amos Gilad, the Israeli coordinator of government activities in the Palestinian territories, said Tuesday the army was preparing for the possibility of a drop in current levels of foreign humanitarian aid to the Palestinian population by readying for the establishment of a military government and the return of the Civil Administration. But he said it was a contingency plan, in case of emergency.
"There is no need to bring back the military government," he was quoted by the Israeli press. "There is no security or strategic need for it. On the contrary: The goalis to try to establish temporary military control in order to eliminate the terror and then to leave."
He added that a Civil Administration would cost NIS 12 billion (some US$2.55 billion) per annum. "Are the scenarios we're working on a harbinger of the return of a military government? The answer is no," he stated. (Albawaba.com)
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