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Israeli, Palestinian officials meet in Cairo

JERUSALEM, Jan. 17 (JTA) – Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben- Ami and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat held talks in Cairo this week in an effort to put an end to nearly four months of violence.

The previously unscheduled meeting Wednesday night came hours after masked gunmen killed a close Arafat associate who headed the official Palestinian television station.

Wednesday’s session was arranged during a meeting earlier in the day between Ben-Ami and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo, Israeli officials said.

Israel and the Palestinians have been looking for ways to reduce the violence in the territories and narrow gaps in their positions on a U.S. peace proposal.

Ben-Ami told reporters in Cairo the talks with Arafat would aim to do just that.

For all their differences, Israeli and Palestinian officials agree on one thing – that they probably will not achieve any breakthroughs before Israeli elections next month.

On Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s spokesman all but ruled out the possibility of an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord before Israel holds elections for prime minister on Feb. 6.

Palestinian officials echoed the assessment.

A planned shuttle mission to the region by Middle East envoy Dennis Ross last week was put on hold, pending progress in Israeli-Palestinian security contacts.

Meanwhile, the violence continued in the territories.

On Wednesday, masked gunmen entered a Gaza City hotel and gunned down Hisham Miki, 54, the head of the official Palestinian television station.

Miki, who was considered very close to Arafat, had headed the station since 1994.

The motive for the killing was unknown. Palestinian security forces launched a search for the assailants.

The Palestinian leadership issued a statement blaming collaborators with Israel for the shooting.

The Israel Defense Force denied the charge, saying that Israel had no link to the incident.

Israel had considered Miki largely responsible for frequent anti-Israel broadcasts on his station.

In other violence, the bodies of two Palestinians were discovered in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, but the cause of death was uncertain.

The IDF said it had no connection to either of the deaths.

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