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Saturday, 9 March, 2002, 08:04 GMT
Sharon ready to talk under fire
Damage inflicted by Israeli helicopters at Jebalya refugee camp
Friday saw widespread death and destruction
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has said that he will hold talks with the Palestinians even if hostilities continue.

He made the move after more than 40 people died in violence on Friday, the worst single day in 17 months of the Palestinian uprising, or intifada.


I thought we could reach a period of respite before a ceasefire - but this is a war situation we are experiencing

Ariel Sharon
Israeli helicopter gunships raided Palestinian security targets on Saturday in the West Bank town of Nablus and in Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip.

And Israeli military sources said more than 400 Palestinians, including about 60 members of the security services, were detained by the army in the West Bank refugee camp of Tulkarm.

Previously, Mr Sharon has insisted that there must be seven days of calm before talks could take place.

But a BBC correspondent in Jerusalem says the Palestinians will be sceptical, thinking that Mr Sharon is just playing for time before the US special envoy, Anthony Zinni, arrives in the region next week.

Click here for map of Gaza Strip and West Bank

A senior aide to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat said that Mr Sharon's offer had "no value".

"He must stop his massacres and aggression against the Palestinian people," said Nabil Adu Rudeina.

US concern

Washington has called for an end to Israeli military strikes.

General Anthony Zinni
Zinni's forthcoming visit is focusing US minds on the Middle East
"It's important for the Israelis to think hard about their policies, think through the consequences of things like going into heavily populated areas with heavy military force," said US State Department spokesman Richard Boucher.

The American pressure comes as Vice President Dick Cheney prepares for a Middle East tour, starting on Sunday.

The BBC Washington correspondent says many Middle East countries would like to see the US trying more actively to promote dialogue between Israel and the Palestinians.

Arab League foreign ministers are meeting in Cairo on Saturday to discuss Saudi proposals, which envisage the Arab world normalising its relations with Israel, in return for a full Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories.

Bloodiest day

In Friday's violence:



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 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Jake Lynch
"Every attack on Israelis brings calls for a military response"
The BBC's Stephen Cviic
"We have had a Friday of unprecedented violence"
Sam Lewis, former US ambassador to Israel
"Sharon is really in a very tight spot"
See also:

09 Mar 02 | Middle East
Arabs seek Mid-East peace revival
08 Mar 02 | Middle East
In pictures: Mid-East fire and fury
07 Mar 02 | Middle East
Israeli operations timeline
05 Mar 02 | Middle East
Head to head: Mid-East violence surges
08 Mar 02 | Media reports
Israeli media criticise government
03 Mar 02 | Middle East
Israel on the defensive
03 Jan 02 | Middle East
Tough times for US Mid-East envoy
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