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U.S. Urges Israel to Lift Arafat Travel Ban

U.S. officials have also pressed Israeli and Palestinian leaders to decide whether to participate in a truce negotiated by CIA Director George Tenet last June. It calls for Israelis to end their incursions into Palestinian areas and Palestinians to crack down on Islamic militants.

Officials from both sides met with U.S. envoy Anthony Zinni on Sunday, but failed to reach an agreement on the matter.

Raanan Gissin, an adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, told reporters Israel will not lift its travel ban on Arafat unless the Palestinian leader agrees to a cease-fire. Gissin said Israel would make its decision about the Arafat travel ban Tuesday, a day before the conference is scheduled to begin.

Arafat has been confined to his West Bank headquarters in Ramallah for the last three months.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said President Bush “believes that Mr. Sharon should give serious consideration to allowing Yasser Arafat to attend [the meeting].”

Fleischer said Mr. Bush hopes that representatives at the two-day conference will back a peace plan suggested by Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Abdullah. The plan offers Israel normal diplomatic relations with the Arab world in return for Israel’s withdrawal from all territories it captured in the 1967 war, including the West Bank, Gaza, the Golan Heights and east Jerusalem.

“The president believes it is time for Arab nations in the region to seize the moment, to create a better environment for peace to take root,” Fleischer said.

Also on Monday, The Washington Post reported Israel may launch a military assault on Palestinian areas if truce talks fail. The newspaper quoted unnamed government sources as saying Israel would wait to see if U.S.-brokered negotiations succeeded, but would launch a deep incursion into Palestinian territory if they did not.

Despite the efforts to broker a cease-fire, violence between Israelis and Palestinians has continued.

A Palestinian man was killed by Israeli troops Monday during an Israeli incursion into a refugee camp in the Gaza Strip. The Israeli army said it entered the camp to look for tunnels used to smuggle weapons, Reuters reported.

Israeli troops on Sunday shot and killed four Palestinians in the Gaza Strip who were suspected of plotting against Israeli settlements. Five other Palestinians were killed in separate incidents.

Also on Sunday, an Israeli kindergarten teacher was killed during a Palestinian bus attack and an Israeli man in the West Bank was shot and killed while driving his car.

So far, 1,236 Palestinians and 365 Israelis have died during the 18-months of violence.