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Israel and Palestinians Set to Declare Cease-Fire


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Israel and Palestinians Set to Declare Cease-Fire


Mon Feb 7, 2:27 PM ET


By Mohammed Assadi


SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt (Reuters) - Israel and the Palestinians will announce a formal cease-fire to halt four years of bloodshed when their leaders meet for a landmark summit in Egypt Tuesday, both sides said Monday.



Reuters Photo



Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas are to meet in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh for the highest-level meeting between the sides since a Palestinian uprising broke out in 2000.



As well as stopping the violence, the summit hosted by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and attended by Jordan's King Abdullah is billed as a step toward reviving a U.S.-backed "road map" for a Palestinian state alongside a secure Israel.



Signaling a new U.S. commitment in the region after Yasser Arafat's death, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice named a security coordinator to protect the budding peace moves and said Sharon and Abbas would visit the White House in the spring.



Palestinian and Israeli officials said the deal on a truce had been reached in pre-summit talks.



"We have agreed to declare a mutual cease-fire," said Mohammad Dahlan, a close Abbas aide who has been in the talks. "This cease-fire means a halt to all actions against Palestinians and Israelis in accordance with the road map."



An Israeli official said: "The Palestinians are expected to announce an end to terrorism and violence. We will announce a halt to military operations on condition there is an end to terrorism and violence."



But it was unclear whether the cease-fire would be respected by militants, who have followed a de facto truce for more than two weeks at the behest of Abbas after he urged them to help him revive peacemaking.



In Gaza, Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Zahar said the Islamic militant group hoped Abbas would not make any declaration without getting approval from the various militant factions.



The factions have said Israel's promise to free 900 out of 8,000 Palestinian prisoners, to pull back troops from some West Bank cities and to stop targeting top militants are not enough.






Underscoring the U.S. view that the first step to negotiations must be an end to violence, Rice named Lieutenant-General William Ward as security coordinator -- stopping short of assigning an envoy to oversee peacemaking.



Ending a visit to the Middle East, she said both Sharon and Abbas had accepted invitations to the White House in the spring for talks with President Bush.



"There should be no doubt about the commitment of the United States to this process at this time -- no doubt about the commitment of the president, no doubt about my personal commitment," Rice said at Abbas's West Bank headquarters.



Rice's predecessor, Colin Powell, made only infrequent trips to the area and was last in Ramallah in 2002.



Rice said Ward would "assist the Palestinian Authority to consolidate and expand their recent efforts on security and encourage resumption of Israeli-Palestinian security coordination."



He was previously commander of the NATO Stabilisation Force in post-war Bosnia and had previous assignments to Egypt, Somalia, Germany and South Korea.



Rice said he would travel to the region in the next few weeks to make an initial assessment.


The last monitoring group involved the CIA but stopped work after militants killed three Americans in Gaza in 2003.


Bush has pledged $350 million in aid to the Palestinians. Rice announced $40 million would be given to them within 90 days in a "quick action program" to help in job creation and rebuilding infrastructure.


Rice called on both sides to the conflict to carry out their obligations to the peace process, citing a "fight against terrorism" by the Palestinians and "no unilateral changes to the status quo" on the part of Israel.


She praised Israel's planned pullout from the occupied Gaza Strip this summer as "historic and monumental."


Palestinians have welcomed any withdrawal from occupied territory but cite Sharon's vow to hold on to large West Bank settlement blocs in any future peace deal.


Entering the Israeli-battered compound, where Arafat was confined for nearly three years, Rice's motorcade swept past his tomb without stopping, a snub indicative of Washington's view of the iconic leader as having been an obstacle to peace.


(Additional reporting by Saul Hudson in Tel Aviv, Dan Williams in Jerusalem)


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