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Palestinian Leaders Seek New Cease-Fire (AP) By LARA SUKHTIAN RAMALLAH, West Bank 08/23/03 1:22 PM) Source: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A36182-2003Aug23.html
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RAMALLAH, West Bank - Facing a fresh storm of violence, Palestinian leaders said Saturday they would try to broker a new halt to attacks by Islamic and other extremist groups and urged Israel to stop killing top militants.
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Chances for a new cease-fire looked dim, however, and top Palestinian officials said privately they were unable to stop what looked set to be an all-out war between Israel and Palestinian militants.
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Israeli forces continued a stepped-up sweep for militants and weapons in the West Bank on Saturday. Tanks belching black smoke and swiveling their canons patrolled the town of Jenin. A few children chased after them, hurling rocks.
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In the West Bank city of Nablus, Israeli troops fired rubber bullets Saturday into a crowd of stone-throwing youths and men, injuring at least 16, hospital officials said. Most were shot with rubber bullets, but two were hit in the legs by live bullets and one was wounded in the hand by shrapnel, hospital officials said. Israel said its troops were targeted with stones and firebombs.
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After a Cabinet meeting in the West Bank town of Ramallah on Saturday, Information Minister Nabil Amr said any new cease-fire would have to include Palestinian groups and Israel.
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"We can talk about a cease-fire, another truce, but we must have guarantees from Israel that it will cooperate. ... We are searching for a way to do that," he said.
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New violence spiraled after a suicide bomber killed 20 people, including six children, Tuesday on a bus in Jerusalem, prompting Israel to kill a leader of the extremist Hamas group. A temporary cease-fire declared two months ago by Hamas and two other groups dissolved under promises of more suicide bombings, and progress along a U.S.-backed peace plan broke down.
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An Islamic Jihad spokesman in Gaza said Saturday the group did not object to the idea of renewed truce talks but said an agreement would have no chance as long as Israel is hunting militants.
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"We don´t have any conditions for any new dialogue," said Nafez Azzam, the Islamic Jihad official. But, he added, "I doubt that Israel is going to respect any new commitment."
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Hamas officials could not be reached for comment Saturday.
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A Hamas leader, in an interview with Dubai-based Al-Arabiya TV that was broadcast in Israel, called President Bush an enemy of Islam because the U.S. government froze assets of leaders of the militant group in response to a the Jerusalem bus bombing. "President Bush has become Islam´s biggest enemy," Abdel Aziz Rantisi said.
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Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon ordered a methodical campaign of targeted killings of Hamas leaders after Tuesday´s suicide bombing, renewing strikes - criticized by Palestinians as assassinations - that have killed dozens of terror suspects and as many bystanders.
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"Israel hasn´t closed the door on the road map," Israeli government spokesman Dore Gold said Friday. "But there are really two possibilities: either the Palestinian Authority will begin to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure - or Israel will."
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On Friday night, Israeli troops shot and killed a fugitive terror suspect whom they spotted hiding on the roof of a hospital in Nablus. Two other militants on the roof were critically wounded. Doctors said the gunmen took cover in the hospital just before Israeli forces entered the city Wednesday and ignored pleas from staff to leave.
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Troops surrounded the hospital asking for the wounded men to be handed over, but eventually withdrew the demand and left.
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Under prodding from the Palestinian Authority and Egyptian officials, Hamas and Islamic Jihad agreed on June 29 to halt for three months attacks that have killed hundreds of Israelis. Yasser Arafat´s Fatah movement, towing its offshoot violent militia, agreed to a six month truce.
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The cease-fire had helped restore a relative calm to an area that has seen three years of renewed fighting.
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Though it was a truce called only on the Palestinian side, Israel responded by scaling down military action and releasing a few hundred Palestinian prisoners. But militant groups were enraged by Israel´s continued hunt for their members in arrest raids in which some suspects were killed.
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While the Palestinians said what was needed were assurances from Israel that it would not kill militant leaders, Israeli officials maintained it had no other choice as long as the Palestinian Authority does not launch its own crackdown on extremists.
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The "road map" peace plan, pushed by the United States and other international powers, demands Palestinians disarm and dismantle Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other violent groups, but the Palestinians had refused, arguing such a confrontation could snowball into a civil war.
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After Tuesday´s bombing, the Palestinians announced for the first time intentions to disarm and arrest militants, a plan that was put on hold after the killing of Hamas leader Ismail Abu Shanab in a helicopter missile strike on Thursday.
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Palestinian legislator Saeb Erekat met with U.S. envoy John Wolf on Saturday and urged him to pressure Israel to halt the killings. (© 2003 The Associated Press 08/23/03)
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