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A New Push for Peace

The United States is sending its trouble shooter Anthony Zinni back to the Middle East. He will aim to broker a truce between Israel and the Palestinians and try to clear the way for peace negotiations.

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Palestinian demonstrators call for and end to Israeli occupation (file picture).

United States envoy Anthony Zinni is due to return to the Middle East on Thursday. His goal is to rescue a truce-to-talks plan from 15 months of Israeli-Palestinian bloodshed. Zinni is scheduled to stay for four to five days.

The American trouble-shooter left the region in mid-December, when an upsurge of violence made all talk of peace impossible.

Officials on both sides have pledged to welcome Zinni back.

Peace plans

The Palestinian Authority hopes Zinni will help implement a truce plan drawn up by George Tenet, the director of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.

The Tenet plan contains a time-frame for a truce between Israel and the Palestinians. This truce would be a first step to renewed peace negotiations and implementing the Mitchell peace plan for the region.

On Tuesday, Israel's Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said the time could now be right to realize the Tenet plan.

Peres is at odds with Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on this issue. Sharon says at least seven days without any violent acts are necessary before the Tenet plan can be implemented.

Fewer attacks

The past two weeks have been relatively calm in the Middle East. A call for an end to attacks on Israelis which Palestinian President Yasser Arafat issued on December 16th is bearing fruit. The Palestinian militant organizations Hamas and the Brigade of el Aqsa Martyrs, both of whom have claimed responsibility in several terrorist attacks on Israel, have said they will adhere to Arafat's demand.

Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres acknowledged that the situation has calmed down. He said there had been "a real decrease" in the number of Palestinian attacks on Israelis in recent weeks.

It is estimated that some 800 Palestinians and 235 Israelis have been killed since the Palestinian uprising against Israel began in September 2000.

Goodwill gestures

One day before Zinni is due to return to the Middle East, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on Wednesday ordered the lifting of some sanctions against the Palestinians.

Israeli security forces were instructed to remove road blocks which they had put up in the Palestinian settlement areas for security reasons.

The U.S. had repeatedly asked Israel to take back sanctions against the Palestinians because militant violence had decreased.

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