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Thursday, 29 November, 2001, 17:33 GMT
Sharon insists on ceasefire condition
Ariel Sharon
Ariel Sharon will meet President Bush in Washington
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has said he will not budge from a demand for a week without Palestinian violence as a condition for accepting an American-sponsored truce.

We want to fight terror, not start a war

Ariel Sharon
"We will not negotiate under fire. We hold to our stance," said Mr Sharon, who was leaving on Thursday for a five-day trip to the US.

Two American envoys are currently in the Middle East trying to achieve a truce and implement a peace plan.

Their four-day-old trip has so far been marred by the continuing violence in the region, during which six Palestinians and three Israelis have died.

On Thursday, Israeli soldiers opened fire on a car at a road block near the West Bank town of Nablus, killing two Palestinians.

The Israeli military said the vehicle had tried to force its way through the checkpoint.

Security rifts

But there are increasing signs that Mr Sharon's hard-line stance is creating a rift with his foreign minister, Shimon Peres.

Palestinian mourners at the funeral of a gunman
The envoys are trying to end more than a year of violence
Mr Peres criticised the prime minister's security-centred approach, saying that the Palestinians could not be expected to crack down on militants and risk civil war without the hope of renewed peace talks.

The US envoys are hoping to edge towards an implementation of the Mitchell peace plan, which calls for Palestinians to arrest extremists and for Israel to freeze Jewish settlements on the West Bank.

Each side accuses the other of failing to abide by the agreement.

'Crucial' six weeks

Palestinian officials said retired general Anthony Zinni, one of the envoys, made no reference to the condition of a week without Palestinian violence when he met Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat on Wednesday.

But a senior aide to Mr Arafat, Nabil Abu Rudeina, told French news agency AFP that the next six weeks will be "crucial" to resolving the current conflict.

He said Mr Zinni and fellow envoy Assistant Secretary of State William Burns should ensure Israel ended its blockade of Palestinian territories, which began at the start of the uprising 14 months ago.

As Mr Burns visited Cairo on Thursday, Mr Zinni was holding separate talks with Israeli and Palestinian security officials.

Washington has said the envoy will stay in the region until he has achieved a truce.

See also:

28 Nov 01 | Middle East
US Mid-East envoy calls for change
28 Nov 01 | Middle East
Mid-East killings overshadow talks
26 Nov 01 | Middle East
Arafat faces tide of frustration
26 Nov 01 | Middle East
Envoys aim to break peace deadlock
26 Nov 01 | Media reports
Mideast papers view US envoys' visit
21 Nov 01 | Middle East
US builds new Mid-East peace initiative
15 Nov 01 | Middle East
Peres backs Palestinian state
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