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Thursday, 8 August, 2002, 00:38 GMT 01:38 UK
Mid-East truce plan discussed
Palestinian children survey the debris of militant's demolished home
Israel stepped up security in the West Bank and Gaza
Israeli and Palestinian officials have held talks to map out details of a new Israeli plan to pull troops out of some occupied areas in exchange for a crackdown on militants.


The leadership decided to agree with this plan, as it is the first step of a comprehensive withdrawal from the re-occupied territories

Azzem al-Ahmed
Palestinian minister

The Palestinian Authority on Wednesday agreed in principle to accept the plan.

However some officials of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement have denounced the decision, saying it was taken without consultation.

Meanwhile, Israeli forces stepped up their hunt for suspected militants in the West Bank and Gaza, killing at least five Palestinians.

Militants shot

In the West Bank town of Tulkarm, Israeli special forces killed a local leader of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, Ziad Daas, after surrounding his hideout.

Two other people were also killed in the fighting, witnesses and Palestinian officials said.

In Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip, a member of the radical Islamic group Hamas, Hussam Hamdan, was reportedly shot dead on his roof by an Israeli sniper.

Earlier on Wednesday, a Palestinian policeman was shot dead when Israeli tanks staged an incursion into northern Gaza to make arrests.

Despite the violence, a Palestinian delegation has set off for Washington on Wednesday to hold talks with US Secretary of State Colin Powell and other officials.

'Gaza first' proposal

The Israeli proposal, put forward by Defence Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer on Monday, would start with a withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and the West Bank town of Bethlehem.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat
Arafat will have to crack down on Hamas militants

In return, the Palestinian Authority would agree to stop attacks by militant groups in those areas.

If security could be guaranteed, Israel says further withdrawals could begin in other areas.

Palestinian public works minister Azzem al-Ahmed told French news agency AFP that the plan "is the first step of a comprehensive withdrawal from the re-occupied territories".

Mr al-Ahmed said the proposal could eventually see a "return to the borders of 28 September 2000," the date when the latest Palestinian uprising broke out.

But he added that they still had "some issues to thrash out".

Opposition

When the proposal was first made, an aide to Mr Arafat, Ahmed Abdel-Rahman, said the "Gaza first" idea had been "totally rejected".

The Palestinians were reportedly interested in having Israel withdraw first from the West Bank town of Ramallah, where Mr Arafat has his headquarters.

Late on Wednesday Fatah officials said the organisation's central committee would meet on Thursday to discuss the decision.

"The Ben-Eliezer plan is like treating cancer with aspirin," said Jibril Rajoub, a central committee member who was recently sacked as head of preventive security in the West Bank.

The BBC's Barbara Plett, in Jerusalem, says the Palestinian leadership needs guarantees that "Gaza first" does not turn into "Gaza only".

The Islamic militant group Hamas has also rejected the plan.

Hamas has huge support in Gaza and the Palestinians will have to consider if they can afford to crack down on the group.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Barbara Plett
"There is a suspicion Israel wants to fragment territories"
Palestinian Minister Nabil Kassis
"Once the Israelis withdraw we can exercise proper government"

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