Mideast diplomatic efforts revive

JERUSALEM, June 16 (JTA) — Efforts are reviving to get peace efforts back on track after a week of escalation that left dozens of Israelis and Palestinians dead. On Monday, an Egyptian delegation continued talks in the Gaza Strip to try to press Palestinian terror groups to accept a cease-fire on attacks against Israelis, while a U.S. delegation arrived in the region to try to help advance the “road map” peace plan. In a sign of the stepped-up efforts, a senior American official was quoted Monday as saying that U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell could visit Israel on Friday, the daily Ha’aretz reported. Members of the diplomatic “Quartet” that devised the road map — the United States, European Union, United Nations and Russia — also were slated to meet in Jordan this week. Despite an optimistic statement earlier in the day by the Palestinian Authority foreign minister that Hamas could agree to a truce as early as Tuesday, the talks with the Egyptian officials ended inconclusively. A Hamas official was quoted as saying that acceptance of a cease-fire would be akin to “surrendering” to Israel. A meeting planned for Monday night between P.A. Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas and representatives of various groups was canceled. Abbas then was expected to meet with Fatah representatives only, and to hold separate talks with Hamas possibly on Tuesday, reports said. U.S. envoy John Wolf, head of an American delegation dispatched to monitor the two sides’ compliance with their road map obligations, was holding talks Monday night with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom. Shalom said he hoped the American team would be successful in supervising the Palestinian commitment to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure. In the Knesset on Monday, Sharon declared that Israel was turned toward peace. He noted that under Egyptian pressure, the terrorist groups had agreed to three days of quiet during the recent summit meetings. The violence since the June 4 summit with Sharon, Abbas and President Bush in Aqaba, Jordan, was “the birth pangs of the diplomatic process,” Sharon said, adding that it will be a “complicated and lengthy process upon which we need to work responsibly.” Sharon reiterated that Israel would have to pay a “painful price” for peace — a phrase he repeatedly has used to refer to the demand to dismantle settlements — but that Israel would make no concessions that would endanger its security. Sharon also defended the recent military actions against Hamas as necessary measures to advance the possibility for peace, not to derail the process. Sharon’s policy statement, which stressed that the road map was a framework and not a formal agreement, was endorsed by the Knesset in a 57-42 vote with no abstentions. The supporters of the statement included some Cabinet ministers who had opposed the road map, including Likud Party stalwart Uzi Landau. Other legislators opposed to the road map, including members of the National Union bloc, were not present for the vote. Sharon’s statements came as small steps continued on the ground toward keeping the road map alive. Israeli and Palestinian security officials reportedly were continuing contacts begun Saturday night, amid reports that Israel was considering a proposal to hand over security control to the Palestinians in the northern Gaza Strip and possibly Bethlehem as well. The legal battles over the future of several illegal outposts also continued. On Monday, Israel’s High Court rejected a petition from settlers against the dismantling of Givat Yitzhak, an inhabited settlement outpost in the West Bank. The ruling paved the way for the army to remove the enclave, in accordance with Sharon’s commitment at the Aqaba summit to dismantle unauthorized outposts.

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