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Sunday, 4 November, 2001, 03:59 GMT
Sharon cancels US visit
Crowd of Israeli demonstrators
Thousands of Israelis have demonstrated for peace
The Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, has cancelled a planned summit meeting with President George Bush in the United States next week.

An announcement from Mr Sharon's office said the trip - which was also to include talks in the UK - had been postponed indefinitely because of the security situation in Israel.

The BBC correspondent in Jerusalem says there is speculation Mr Sharon may be trying to avoid pressure to withdraw Israeli troops from Palestinian areas.

Meanwhile violence has broken out again in the Gaza Strip, after a period of relative calm.

Early on Sunday, Israeli helicopters launched a missile attack on Palestinian positions in Jabalia, Beit Lahia and Beit Hanoun.

There were no immediate reports of casualties.

On Saturday, Palestinians say a security officer was killed when Israeli troops opened fire on a police post south of Gaza City.

Palestinian police officer with relative
A Palestinian police officer lies dead in Gaza
Mr Sharon had been expected to meet President Bush on 11 November, as well as UK Prime Minister Tony Blair during a stopover en route to the United States.

As it seeks to shore up support in the Arab world for the war on terror, the United States is anxious for Israel to resume negotiations with the Palestinians and pull out of four Palestinian-controlled towns on the West Bank.

Mr Blair met the Israeli and Palestinian leaders on Thursday to try to revive the stalled peace process.

Arafat-Peres talks

Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat have held talks on the sidelines of an economic conference on the Spanish resort island of Mallorca - their first meeting for more than a month.

Mr Arafat urged Israel to "withdraw its troops from areas under Palestinian sovereignty, raise the blockade imposed for the last 14 months and suspend its policy of murdering Palestinian activists".

Ariel Sharon
Ariel Sharon: Violence must stop before talks resume
But Mr Peres replied: "You must understand there are limits to what we can do. We want to be your neighbours and friends, but we don't want to commit suicide".

Israeli troops have been withdrawn from two towns - Bethlehem and nearby Beit Jala.

Israel moved forces into and around the Palestinian-run towns in the West Bank on 17 October in response to the assassination of cabinet minister Rehavam Zeevi.

Mr Sharon has said Palestinian security guarantees must include the arrest and handover of those behind the assassination.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Zalman Shoval, Advisor to Ariel Sharon
"Both sides decided to reschedule"
International affairs expert Judith Kipper
"I think both sides are just as well off with the postponement"
See also:

02 Nov 01 | Middle East
Israeli killed in drive-by shooting
02 Nov 01 | Middle East
Israel declares seized soldiers dead
02 Nov 01 | UK Politics
Downing Street defends Blair trip
01 Nov 01 | Middle East
Blair seeks return to Mid-East peace
01 Nov 01 | Middle East
Sharon offers talks amid violence
31 Oct 01 | Middle East
Israel kills key Hamas member
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