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Last Updated: Wednesday, 3 December, 2003, 10:08 GMT
US to meet Mid-East plan authors
Palestinians show their ID papers to Israeli soldiers as they wait to cross the Hawara checkpoint on their way out of the West Bank town of Nablus
The Geneva plan deals head-on with contentious issues
US Secretary of State Colin Powell has said he intends to meet the authors of an unofficial peace plan for the Middle East, despite opposition from Israel.

Mr Powell said he had a right to meet anyone with ideas on advancing peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

He was responding to a rare rebuke by Israel's deputy prime minister, who said such a move would be a "mistake".

The Israeli Government has rejected the Geneva plan - the Palestinian Authority has given it only lukewarm support.

Meanwhile reports quoting Israeli army sources said Israel had arrested 17 members of Islamic Jihad overnight in and around Jenin, and a number of Palestinian militants in Ramallah.

The arrests come on the eve of talks in Cairo designed to persuade armed Palestinian groups to declare a new truce.


The Geneva plan, launched on Monday by Israeli and Palestinian political figures, calls for the establishment of a Palestinian state, and the dismantling of most Jewish settlements.

Israeli withdrawal from almost all West Bank and Gaza
Shared sovereignty over Jerusalem
Palestinian renunciation of 'right of return'

It grants Israel the right to decide how many Palestinian refugees can return to Israel.

The US State Department said Mr Powell was expected to meet the accord's chief authors - former Israeli Justice Minister Yossi Beilin and former Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo - in Washington on Friday, when Mr Powell returns from his trip to North Africa and Europe.

The BBC's Sebastian Usher say Mr Powell has given the accord a new credibility, where previously it was seen as having mostly symbolic value.

Israel has balked at the prospect of the US endorsing the Geneva plan as a substitute for the official US-backed roadmap peace plan.

Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said the proposed three-way meeting was a "wrong step by a representative of the American administration", but Mr Powell dismissed the criticism.

"We are not stepping back in any way from our commitment to the roadmap," Mr Powell said in Tunis.

"I am the American secretary of state. I have an obligation... to listen to individuals who have interesting ideas."

Tanks into Jenin

The Geneva plan was overshadowed by more violence on Tuesday, as Israeli troops shot dead two Palestinians in the West Bank.

A member of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement said the renewed Israeli military operations risked sabotaging efforts to secure a truce offer from Palestinian militants.

Informal talks began in Cairo on Tuesday between several Palestinian factions including Fatah, aimed at securing a new Palestinian ceasefire offer.

The official opening of the talks has been delayed until Thursday, when Islamic militant groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad plan to join the talks.

Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei, who took office last month, hopes to present a Palestinian truce offer to Israel, a key step in reviving the US-backed peace plan.

A previous Palestinian ceasefire collapsed in August after less than two months.

The BBC's Jon Leyne
"The Secretary of State has stirred controversy"

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