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Sunday, 17 March, 2002, 06:23 GMT
Zinni plans fresh Mid-East efforts
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat kisses a Palestinian child during a visit to homes damaged by Israeli army raids
Arafat has demanded Israel's withdrawal from the territories
US envoy Anthony Zinni remains in the Middle East in an effort to bring about a ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinians.

On Saturday night, the Israeli Government backtracked from an earlier statement which had signalled a breakthrough in the efforts of the retired US general.

Anthony Zinni, right, with top Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat
Anthony Zinni, right, met with top Palestinian negotiators
The statement had said a three-way meeting would be held on Sunday between Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, an unnamed senior Palestinian official and General Zinni.

But Mr Sharon's office issued a second statement, blaming the media for the mix-up and saying that "no decision has been made regarding the holding of a meeting."

New test for Zinni

The retraction was made after the Palestinians demanded that the Israelis pull all their forces out of the areas they have occupied in the past 18 months.

Enlarge image Enlarge map
Map of the West Bank and Gaza
"Our understanding is that... [we need] to have a time-line, mechanisms with monitors on the ground and we hope that above anything else, the Israeli army will complete the withdrawal from all areas they occupy," said the leader of the Palestinian negotiating team, Saeb Erekat.

The BBC's Richard Lister in Jerusalem says the test for the US envoy now is whether he can bridge these substantial gaps and ensure that ceasefire talks do get under way soon.

The recent upsurge in violence has abated since General Zinni's arrival on Thursday.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon
Sharon: Willing to meet Palestinian officials
Israel's Foreign Minister, Shimon Peres, told a news conference on Saturday that there would be no further incursions by Israeli forces into Palestinian controlled areas.

He added that the demolition of houses belonging to Palestinian militants would also cease.

He said he was confident about the chances of achieving a ceasefire.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Richard Lister
"General Zinni is trying to keep up the momentum for peace"
Writer on Middle East politics Dilip Hiro
"Sharon ...will under no circumstances agree to a complete withdrawal"
See also:

15 Mar 02 | Middle East
Deaths overshadow Zinni mission
12 Mar 02 | Middle East
Ramallah operation ups stakes
12 Mar 02 | Middle East
Annan appeal brings mixed response
12 Mar 02 | Middle East
In pictures: Israel goes in hard
12 Mar 02 | Middle East
Six Israelis killed in gun attack
12 Mar 02 | Middle East
Controversy over 'execution' pictures
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