Israel rejects truce bid from Palestinians


Israel has rejected a an agreement by Palestinian factions meeting in Cairo to halt suicide bombings inside Israel without stopping attacks on Israeli soldiers or settlers in occupied land.

A senior Israeli official said such a deal would not be enough to renew Israeli-Palestinian peace talks or set up a proposed summit between Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurie.

Palestinian cabinet member and negotiator Mr Saeb Erekat said the director of Mr Sharon's bureau and Mr Qurie's top aide would meet today to prepare for a summit, a move viewed as crucial to reviving talks under the US-backed road map peace plan. But the Israeli official said continued haggling in Cairo over a truce agreement had thrown this meeting into doubt.

Mr Sharon has vowed to pursue talks with Mr Qurie to advance the road map, a plan which calls for a series of reciprocal steps to end Israeli-Palestinian violence and establish a Palestinian state by 2005. Plans to hold a summit have been put off for weeks amid disputes over setting the conditions for talks. Israel has rejected a Palestinian demand for a pre-summit gesture of halting the construction of a West Bank barrier, but which Israel says is needed to keep suicide bombers from reaching its towns and cities.

And Mr Sharon has demanded that Mr Qurie take measures to end violence by militants against Israel. Israel views the talks in Cairo as a first step toward this goal, the official said. Mr Qurie went to Cairo to try to seal a truce deal, but the talks bogged down as key militant Muslim groups drafted an agreement that omitted any reference to a ceasefire in the West Bank and Gaza.

Another complication arose when Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the spiritual head of Hamas, a militant group that has killed hundreds of Israelis in suicide bombings, said he remained firmly opposed to Israel's existence in the region.

In the Gaza Strip, Israeli soldiers shot dead three Palestinians yesterday, including a teenager and two armed Hamas members.