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Archive for Saturday, June 14, 2003

Mideast peace talks to resume today

June 14, 2003

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— Israeli and Palestinian officials said late Friday they would resume peace talks focused on security issues today for the first time since meeting in Aqaba, Jordan. The announcement followed a sixth Israeli airstrike Friday that killed a Hamas activist and more threats of future violence that could overwhelm peace efforts.

Palestinian security chief Mohammed Dahlan is expected to tell Israeli officials at a meeting today in Jerusalem that he is prepared to take over security control in the northern Gaza Strip, and in parts of the Palestinian West Bank -- a crucial first step to restarting the stalled road map peace process.

Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz told Israeli Army Radio Friday night that he would turn over security control in the embattled stretch of the Gaza Strip to Dahlan "immediately and without preconditions," despite the attacks and counterattacks this week that have left 56 dead.

Following Mofaz's statement Friday, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat called an emergency meeting with Dahlan and the heads of the five security branches that Arafat still controls. The two reportedly agreed to accept the Israeli offer to take over security in Gaza, as well as anywhere else where Israel would relinquish control.

It remained unclear whether the tentative steps toward cooperation could reverse a week of violence that has undermined President Bush's drive to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In addition, Arafat's behind-the-scenes role was likely to rankle U.S. officials, who have tried to sideline him for a year and instead are backing Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas.

Dahlan and Abbas previously balked at taking over security because their forces are depleted from three years of Mideast violence.

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