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Israeli, Palestinians agree to escalate talks on pullout

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GAZA, Aug 4, 2005 (Xinhua via COMTEX) -- Senior Israeli and Palestinian officials on Wednesday agreed to escalate talks on the final details of the Gaza pullout, while an armed wing of the Islamic Jihad has ordered an end to rocket attacks against Israel.

The Palestinian Ministry of Interior said Wednesday in a statement that the agreement came following a meeting between General Jamal Abu Zayed, Palestinian deputy interior minister, and General Dan Hariel, planning chief of the Israeli army.

A number of security and army officers joined the meeting that was held in an area near Erez Crossing in northern Gaza Strip, the statement said, characterizing the meeting as fruitful and positive.

Sources at the Gaza bureau of Palestinian Minister of Civil Affairs Mohammed Dahlan said he will hold several meetings with Israeli ministers later on Wednesday.

Dahlan would first meet with Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Perez, before holding talks with Israeli Defense Minister Shaoul Mofaz.

Both of the meetings will be aimed at discussing ongoing coordination for Israel's evacuation of the 21 settlements in the Gaza Strip and four in northern West Bank.

The agreement coincided with a call the same day by James Wolfensohn, special envoy of the international quartet of Mideast Peacemakers -- the United Nations, the United States, the European Union and Russia -- for the two sides to move quickly and strike deal on the pullout.

He said work should be done to solve problems such as how to run border crossings and operate a Palestinian seaport and airport after Israel's pullout from Gaza.

Meanwhile, al-Quds Brigades, armed wing of the Islamic Jihad, announced that it would halt its rocket attacks against Israel, signaling its desire for the scheduled Aug. 17 pullout to proceed smoothly.

"The leadership of the al-Quds Brigades issued orders three days ago to all groups to stop firing rockets in order to preserve the national Palestinian project at this critical and historic juncture," it said in a statement.

The statement said the group made the decision in order to "give a chance" for Israel's planned Gaza withdrawal "to take place in a peaceful manner."

It denied responsibility for the rocket fired toward an Israeli town, which fell short and killed a 6-year-old Palestinian boy in the northern Gaza Strip.

The militant group issued the statement amid repeated calls from the Palestinian authorities to suspend violent attacks on Israel, saying the homemade rockets fired on Israel would damage Palestinian interests.

Tawfeek Abu Khousa, spokesman for the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) Interior Ministry, told the "Voice of Palestine" radio that the attacks would have negative effects on the political interests of Palestine.

"It also leaves bad effects on the Palestinian citizens and their properties," he said.

While Civil Affairs Minister Dahlan said, "They have to stop it immediately," following the rocket which killed the young Palestinian boy.

"The question of halting rocket attacks is the responsibility of the government as well as the Palestinian community and all the political, national, and Islamic factions," he said.