Mideast Diplomatic Efforts Intensify in Effort to End 8 Months of Violence

Israel and the Palestinian Authority appear to be inching closer to accepting the outlines of a U.S. cease-fire proposal.

Israeli and Palestinian security officials reportedly accepted CIA Director George Tenet’s proposal for a cease-fire, but each side had some reservations.

In a further hopeful sign, Israeli and Palestinian security officials met twice over the weekend in an attempt to end more than eight months of violence. Another meeting was slated for Monday.

In his proposal, Tenet — who had arranged the series of meetings after arriving in the region last week — called on Israel not to hit Palestinian targets, to pull troops back to positions held before the uprising began last September and to prevent revenge attacks against Palestinians, according to Israeli media reports.

His plan also calls for the Palestinian Authority to arrest Islamic Jihad and Hamas militants, halt incitement and destroy mortar ammunition stockpiles.

The cease-fire would be the first step in implementing a peace plan recently issued by a U.S.-led fact-finding panel. Under the plan recommended by the Mitchell Committee, a cease-fire would be followed by a cooling-off period, a series of confidence-building measures and a return to negotiations.

On Sunday, Israel responded positively to most of the sections of Tenet’s proposal.

Speaking at a news conference with visiting European officials, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said the U.S. proposal “isn’t perfect” but was the “best bet” to end the violence.

Israel’s Channel Two Television reported that the Palestinians had accepted the agreement in principle as well, but with their own reservations.

European officials shuttled between Jerusalem and Ramallah on Sunday for talks aimed at cementing the fragile cease-fire agreement.

The prime minister of Sweden, Goran Persson, and the European Union’s chief foreign policy official, Javier Solana, held talks with officials from both sides.

Solana said Sunday that Israel and Palestinians should implement a cease-fire before agreeing to confidence-building measures such as a freeze in Israeli settlement construction.

Israel has been trying to garner international support for its claim that the Mitchell Committee recommendations call for a cease-fire prior to a freeze in settlements. The Palestinian Authority insists that a freeze in settlements come as part of a cease-fire.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan is slated to visit the Middle East this week. He will be the latest in a parade of diplomats who have been visiting the region to urge Israel and the Palestinian Authority to end the violence and return to the negotiating table.

Diplomatic efforts suffered a setback Sunday, when Palestinians in the Gaza Strip vowed revenge during funerals Sunday for three Bedouin women killed by Israeli tank fire the night before.

Israel said the tanks opened fire after three military posts near an Israeli settlement in Gaza were fired on by Palestinian gunmen.

The Israel Defense Force’s chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Shaul Mofaz, said Sunday the deaths may have resulted from a targeting mistake.

In other violence, Palestinians fired mortars Sunday at the Gaza settlements of Kfar Darom and Gadid. There were no injuries reported.

In the West Bank, Palestinian gunmen fired shots at an army jeep near Hebron, but caused no injuries.

In another development, Israeli doctors said Sunday the condition of a 5-month-old boy wounded in a Palestinian attack last week had deteriorated.

The infant suffered severe brain damage following an Arab stoning attack in the West Bank. A day after the June 5 stoning, Israeli settlers went on a rampage near an Arab village in the West Bank, setting at least three Palestinian- owned buildings on fire.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon visited the infant, Yehuda Shoham, at a Jerusalem hospital.

Three people were wounded in Palestinian attacks over the weekend, including an Israeli driver who sustained moderate to serious injuries in a shooting attack in the West Bank.

Reacting to these incidents, Mofaz said Sunday the Palestinians had failed to follow through on a cease-fire that Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat had announced on June 2.

Palestinian officials in turn cited the deaths of the three Bedouin women as proof that Israel is not serious about a cease-fire.

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