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Monday, 26 November, 2001, 20:20 GMT
Envoys aim to break peace deadlock
A child sits by a ruined house on the Gaza Strip
Israel has attacked targets across the Gaza Strip
Two senior American envoys have arrived in Israel at the start of a new peace initiative to try to arrange a ceasefire between the Israelis and Palestinians.

The officials - former general, Anthony Zinni, and assistant Secretary of State, William Burns - plan to stay in the region until a truce has been achieved.

Only hours before their arrival, a Palestinian suicide bomber blew himself up on the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip, slightly injuring two Israeli border guards.

The Palestinian militant group Hamas said it carried out the attack in revenge for the Israeli killing of a Hamas leader, Mahmud Abu Hanoud, on Friday.

Mahmud Abu Hanoud
Mahmud Abu Hanoud: Latest victim of Israel's "assassination policy"
It was the latest incident in a spate of violence sparked by Friday's killing of Mr Hanoud in a missile attack by an Israeli helicopter gunship.

On Saturday, an Israeli soldier was killed in a mortar attack in the Gaza Strip and on Sunday a 14-year-old Palestinian boy was shot by Israeli soldiers during a Hamas protest outside the West Bank town of Bethlehem. He died later.

At least three other Palestinians were wounded when Israeli helicopters attacked targets across the Gaza Strip in response to Saturday's mortar attack.

In another development, Israeli security services said they had arrested more than 15 Palestinians in connection with an alleged Iraqi-backed "terrorism ring" in the West Bank towns of Ramallah and Jenin.

Timetable sought

The envoys' mission follows last week's speech by the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, in which he spelled out Washington's vision for the Middle East.

BBC Middle East correspondent Barbara Plett says they will be greeted by a stack of reports documenting the Israeli view that the Palestinian authority is involved in the violence.

US Secretary of State Colin Powell
Colin Powell: A new drive to revive the stalled peace talks

Israel has appointed a right-wing reservist general, Meir Dagan, as head of its negotiating team.

For their part, the Palestinians are looking for a clear timetable leading to changes on the ground, such as a pullback of Israeli troops and an end to military operations that provoke revenge attacks.

The envoys are expected to press both sides to implement the terms of a ceasefire negotiated five months ago by US Central Intelligence Agency director George Tenet which never took hold.

Mr Tenet's plan called on Israel to stop military incursions into Palestinian towns, to stop killing suspected militants and to lift travel restrictions between Palestinian-controlled areas.

He called on the Palestinians to stop attacks on Israel, to take action against militant groups and to collect illegal firearms.

The mediators will first meet Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who was visiting Arab countries and was not expected back until Wednesday, has accused Israel of "continuous aggression".

After Sunday's attacks on the Gaza Strip, Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo said that Israel was trying to sabotage US peace efforts.

'Time for peace'

He said that the US reaction to Israeli operations was not strong enough.

Mr Sharon, due to visit Washington later this week, said the US mission would put Mr Arafat's intentions to the test and insisted that Israel would try to reach a ceasefire.

Mr Peres said that 14 months of fighting had achieved nothing and the time had come for both sides to try to stop it.

The BBC's correspondent says some analysts believe Mr Sharon's political future will be threatened if the violence ends. His coalition government might split over how to approach peace talks.

Nearly 1,000 people, most of them Palestinians, have been killed since the Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation began in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in September 2000, shortly after peace talks stalled.

The BBC's Richard Engel
"There is however very little optimism"
Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Gideon Meyer
"What we are doing is fulfilling our self defence right"
See also:

26 Nov 01 | Middle East
Arafat faces tide of frustration
21 Nov 01 | Middle East
US builds new Mid-East peace initiative
15 Nov 01 | Middle East
Peres backs Palestinian state
01 Aug 01 | Middle East
Israel's 'assassination policy'
19 Oct 00 | Middle East
Who are Hamas?
26 Nov 01 | Media reports
Mideast papers view US envoys' visit
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