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Israelis, Palestinians to meet Monday to discuss ceasefire

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Jerusalem/Ramallah (dpa) - Israeli and Palestinian officials will meet Monday to continue discussing a plan to forge a ceasefire in their more than two-year old conflict.

The talks will follow on from a parley Israeli Premier Ariel Sharon held Wednesday with Palestinian Legislative Council Speaker Ahmed Qrei (Abu Ala), in which he reportedly suggested a gradual ceasefire to be implemented on a local basis.

"The plan has been to encourage the Palestinians to act energetically and with determination to stop terrorism,'' Sharon's bureau chief, Dov Weisglass, said.

"Expectations (that the talks will lead to positive results) are low'' he added in an interview with Israel Radio.

Palestinian President Yassir Arafat did not directly confirm or deny the talks, but said in the West Bank city of Ramallah that "there is a decision by the Palestinian leadership to continue contacts with the Israelis, or the Quartet, or the United Nations or any of our friends around the world''.

Arafat's aide, Nabil Abu Rudeineh was more forthcoming, saying that "there are ongoing contacts but the true test is in the results because they should lead to Israeli withdrawal.''

"We are not against political talks as long as they are based on the signed agreements and as long as there is use for them,'' he said.

Under the nascent ceasefire proposal, Israeli and Palestinian security cooperation on the ground will be renewed in stages at various locations. The Palestinian Authority will assume responsibility over areas from which the Israeli army withdraws and will work toward a cessation of Palestinian militancy.

Israel will also agree to economic arrangements in the areas in which the plan is implemented, and will allow Palestinian labourers to work in Israel, as well as goods to be transferred.

A similar plan was implemented in the Bethlehem region of the southern West Bank last year. It was scrapped after a series of attacks against Israelis, including a suicide bombing, which Israeli officials charged originated from the biblical city.

Israeli forces took over most of the Palestinian autonomous areas last summer after a wave of suicide bombings in Israeli cities.

According to an Israeli media report Saturday, Sharon said during his meeting with Qrei that full-scale peace talks between the two sides would not take place so long as Arafat remained in office.

Sharon holds Arafat ultimately responsible for attacks against Israel, saying the Palestinian leader does nothing to curb Palestinian militancy and even encourages it.

The ceasefire proposal notwithstanding, Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip destroyed 10 Palestinian-owned houses in the Khan Younis refugee camp Saturday.

Eight of the homes were totally razed, two others were badly damaged. A 70-year-old woman died of a heart attack as bulldozers levelled her home, Palestinians said.

And in the West Bank Israeli soldiers demolished two Palestinian homes near the city of Nablus.

The two houses, in the villages of Beit Fourik and Tel, had belonged to the families of Ahmad Hamad and Anan Hanani who attacked an Israeli army outpost near Nablus late Wednesday night.

They two gunmen killed an Israeli army officer and non-commissioned officer before being killed by soldiers.

dpa sar mak jab pb sar jm AP-NY-02-08-03 0938EST

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