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Israel Eases Some Restrictions, but Remains Wary of More Arab Terror

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has agreed to a limited resumption of contacts with the Palestinians.

According to Israeli media reports, Sharon is open to engaging in discussions on the “immediate interests” of the two sides — security for Israel and the easing of sanctions for the Palestinians.

Sharon and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres met Sunday to discuss resuming such contacts.

Sharon insisted that there be no diplomatic negotiations and agreed that Peres could meet soon with the new Palestinian finance minister, Salem Fayed, Army Radio reported.

According to the Israeli daily Ha’aretz, Sharon was opposed to holding contacts with any Palestinian officials “tainted” by terrorism.

Last week, Israel’s Security Cabinet approved a number of measures aimed at easing restrictions on the Palestinians.

The measures include enforcing curfews only at night and permitting 5,000 Palestinians to work in Israel. Other steps include granting members of international organizations and Palestinian civilian institutions freedom of movement.

The gradual easing of restrictions will be implemented at the discretion of security officials, the Security Cabinet decided, adding that any resumption of Palestinian terror attacks on Israelis would lead to a reimposition of the restrictions.

The Israeli army, meanwhile, continued its anti-terror operations.

As part of those efforts, Israeli soldiers foiled an attempt Sunday by armed Palestinians to infiltrate from the Gaza Strip into Israel.

The soldiers captured two gunmen who were wearing Palestinian police uniforms near the settlement of Alei Sinai in northern Gaza.

During questioning, the two revealed that they had been on their way to carry out a suicide bombing in Israel, according to Israel Radio.

Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer said Sunday that during Israel’s anti-terror campaign, some 150 wanted Palestinians have been detained, including 10 potential suicide bombers.

He also told ministers at the weekly Cabinet meeting that Israeli soldiers had uncovered 14 bomb-making factories.

“Just yesterday, we discovered in Nablus a laboratory with 300 pipe bombs and 20 gas balloons,” the Israeli daily Yediot Achronot quoted Ben-Eliezer as saying.

In another development Sunday, the head of Egyptian intelligence visited Israel to press for concessions to the Palestinians.

Gen. Omar Suleiman met with several Israeli officials Sunday, including President Moshe Katsav, who called on Egypt to return its ambassador to Israel.

Egypt withdrew its ambassador shortly after the start of the intifada in September 2000.

During meetings with Peres and Ben-Eliezer, Suleiman said that Egypt is interested in helping to calm the situation, Israel Radio reported. But, he added, Israel must take steps to give the Palestinians hope.

Peres responded that the Palestinians must combat terrorism if there is to be any hope for diplomatic progress.

In another development, Palestinian security officials said over the weekend that they are unhappy with the person Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat appointed to head security forces in the West Bank.

Six officials told Arafat on Saturday that they would not work with Zuhair Manasreh, whom Arafat named last week to replace Jibril Rajoub.

The officials said Manasreh was unsuitable because he was not previously a member of the Preventive Security Service.

According to Palestinian sources cited by the Israeli daily Ha’aretz, Arafat is rethinking the appointment of Manasreh, who was formerly governor of Jenin.

On Sunday, about 300 demonstrators in Hebron carried banners saying “We Support Rajoub” and chanted “Down With Manasreh.”

Ben-Eliezer was dismissive of the reforms implemented in the Palestinian Authority so far, including the dismissal of Rajoub.

“The bottom line is that Arafat is trying to maneuver opposite the pressure which is coming at him from all directions, and create the impression of reform in order to prove ‘who’s the boss,'” Ben-Eliezer was quoted as saying.

“This stood out especially in his decision to dismiss Rajoub. It is clear to me that there is no reform and Arafat’s efforts in this case won’t succeed.”

Rajoub, meanwhile, sought to preserve an outward appearance of agreement with Arafat.

He told Army Radio that he and Arafat had agreed on his replacement and he was not angry at Arafat over the decision, only at the person who leaked the story.

In another development over the weekend, a Palestinian woman and her infant daughter were killed Saturday in southern Gaza.

Palestinians blamed Israel. Army officials said they were investigating the incident, adding that it was not yet clear who was responsible.

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