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Peres, Arafat Meet in Cairo As Violence Continues to Rage

Recent days have seen increased diplomatic efforts aimed at ending more than nine months of Israeli-Palestinian violence.

On Sunday, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat met in Cairo for more than an hour. Afterward, Peres said he had told Arafat that Israel is waiting for seven days of complete calm before starting peace moves.

Speculation that Arafat and Peres might meet had circulated since the weekend, when it became clear that both would be in the Egyptian capital for separate talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

The meeting came on the heels of talks last week in Ramallah between Arafat and Sharon’s son, Omri.

Before meeting with Arafat, Peres held talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher. Along with Mubarak, E.U. envoy Miguel Angel Moratinos was said to have been involved in arranging the Peres-Arafat meeting.

According to the Israeli daily Ha’aretz, Peres received a green light as early as July 11 from Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to pursue direct contacts with Arafat — on the condition that Peres would convey only a message that he and Sharon had agreed on beforehand.

Despite Sharon’s oft-declared stance that he will negotiate while Palestinian violence continues, he defended a previous Peres-Arafat encounter in Lisbon last month by saying the foreign minister had not engaged in negotiations, but had reiterated Israel’s demand for an end to all violence, terror and incitement.

In a similar vein, Sharon dispatched Omri to meet with Arafat on July 12 and deliver a personal message reassuring him that Israel has no plans to assassinate or unseat Arafat.

Omri Sharon also was directed to reiterate that there would be no negotiations until there was a complete halt to all violence, terrorism and incitement.

Sharon’s meeting followed a report in the London-based publication Foreign Report that Israel has a military plan to destroy the Palestinian Authority and expel Arafat from the territories.

Israel denied the report. On Sunday, Peres assured Mubarak that Israel has no such plan.

Palestinian Authority official Saeb Erekat reportedly expressed concerns about the report during a meeting last Friday with the deputy U.S. secretary of state for the Near East, David Satterfield. Satterfield also met Saturday with Arafat.

The State Department said the Bush administration has no knowledge about an Israeli plan to overthrow the Palestinian Authority.

At a news conference with Mubarak on Sunday, Peres said Israel is seeking a political solution to the current conflict, and that it must continue the dialogue with Arafat, “the elected leader of the Palestinian people.”

At the same time, Israel has indicated that despite its ongoing policy of restraint, it will not tolerate continued violence and attacks.

At the weekly Cabinet meeting Sunday, Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer said Israel will not allow any attack to pass without a response.

Sharon was quoted as saying that even those attacks that do not result in Israeli casualties will not go unanswered.

At Sunday’s meeting, the Cabinet agreed to build new towns in a southern part of the country it offered the Palestinians last year in exchange for land in the West Bank.

Cabinet Secretary Gideon Saar said all but one minister at the meeting supported the decision to build towns in the unpopulated Halutza Sands area of the Negev Desert near the Gaza Strip.

During talks last year, no agreement was reached on the land-swap proposal.

Despite the increased diplomatic activity of recent days, violence has continued.

Yehezkel Mualem, a member of the city council in the West Bank settlement of Kiryat Arba, was shot last Friday while protesting a previous terror attack in the same area.

A day earlier, terrorists shot and mortally wounded David Cohen, 31, of Betar Illit, who later died in a local hospital.

Last Friday, a Hamas militant was killed in a car bombing that Palestinian officials blamed on Israel. Israel gave no formal comment, but Israeli security sources noted that Fawwaz Badran was linked to two suicide bomb attacks in Netanya this year and had been on Israel’s list of wanted terror suspects.

In the Gaza Strip over the weekend, Israeli troops shot and killed a Palestinian who was planting explosive devices near Jewish settlements.

Palestinians fired mortars at the Jewish settlement Netzarim, located in Gaza, and at Kibbutz Nahal Oz, inside Israel. There were no injuries.

There also were scattered incidents in and around Hebron, Ramallah and Bethlehem, but no Israeli injuries.

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