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Tuesday, 16 October, 2001, 22:20 GMT 23:20 UK
Israel may accept Palestinian state
Israeli soldier examining belongings of Palestinians at West Bank checkpoint
Security and peace would change lives
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has said he would agree to an independent Palestinian state if Israel's security was guaranteed, Israel radio reports.

Mr Sharon - speaking to members of his right-wing Likud party - said he would personally lead any future peace talks with the Palestinians.

He has ruled out peace talks with the Palestinians unless a ceasefire holds for at least 48 hours.

In further violence, a member of the hardline Palestinian group Hamas was killed in an explosion in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday - the third militant to be killed in as many days.

There are conflicting reports about the cause of the blast that killed Eyad al Akhrass, a member of the armed wing of Hamas.

Ariel Sharon addresses parliament
Sharon would agree to independent Palestinian state
A local Hamas leader blamed Israel for the explosion in the man's home in the Rafah refugee camp.

But another Hamas source told the BBC that the blast happened while the man was preparing a bomb.

Israeli authorities are investigating the third violent death of a Hamas member since the weekend.

The two men who died on Sunday and Monday were on Israel's wanted list.

Israel confirmed that it carried out the first killing, which Mr Sharon warned would not be the last.

Israeli officials said the man, Abdul Rahman Hamad, was behind the bombing of a Tel Aviv nightclub in June in which more than twenty young Israelis were killed.

US criticism

After Palestinians blamed Israel for the death of another militant in an explosion on Monday, the United States repeated its opposition to "targeted killings".

We want to see an independent Palestinian state, successful, flourishing. We think that the better the Palestinians will have it, the better neighbour we shall have

Shimon Peres

Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres - speaking on a visit to the Czech Republic - said Israel was willing to end its policy of killing militants provided the Palestinian authorities arrested them instead.

Mr Peres also expressed support for the creation of a Palestinian state, following similar statements by US President George Bush and UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, who met Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in London on Monday.

Mr Sharon's announcement late on Tuesday that he would agree to a Palestinian state if Israel's security demands were met was seen mainly as a result of intensifying international pressure.

Peace plan

A report published in London said Israel was about to propose a peace plan to the United States.

Israeli settlers in Hebron put up sandbag defences after Israeli troops withdraw from two hills
Sandbags to replace soldiers

The Foreign Report publication, from the respected Jane's defence analysis group, said Mr Sharon had been convinced by Mr Peres to make the offer after finding out that Mr Bush intended to propose his own Middle East plan.

Mr Sharon said an eventual Palestinian state would be demilitarised but would have a police force, Israel radio reported.

Mr Peres, the leader of Israel's Labour Party and a keen advocate of peace talks, is believed to be in a stronger political position after the resignation of two ultra-nationalist members of Mr Sharon's coalition government on Monday.

Mr Sharon accused the defectors of playing into the hands of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

The hardliners quit the government in protest against the withdrawal of some Israeli troops from the West Bank town of Hebron and plans to lift sanctions against Palestinians.

Some Jewish settlers in Hebron were arrested during clashes with the withdrawing Israeli forces on Monday night and Tuesday morning.

The settlers said they would be left unprotected from Palestinian snipers who had earlier fired at them from two hills.

Israeli troops occupied the two hills overlooking Hebron earlier this month, but withdrew after Palestinians reportedly agreed to prevent further shooting.

The BBC's Paul Anderson
reports from Jerusalem
See also:

15 Oct 01 | UK Politics
Blair calls for Palestinian state
15 Oct 01 | Middle East
Israeli army pulls out of Hebron
05 Oct 01 | Middle East
Israeli army seizes Hebron hilltop
03 Oct 01 | Middle East
Q&A: Mid-East violence surges
27 Sep 01 | Middle East
Analysis: The intifada one year on
16 Jul 01 | Middle East
Hebron: City of strife
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