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Sharon to Lift Arafat Travel Ban

Israel's prime minister may allow Arafat to travel to next week's Arab League summit, if the Palestinian leader agrees to a fresh peace plan, put forward by the US.

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Hopeful news of a lift on Arafat's travel ban were daunted by a suicide bomb attack

An announcement by the Palestinian Authority on Tuesday to implement the Tenet plan, a security cooperation between Palestinians and Israelis, was overshadowed by a bus bomb blast, which cost the lives of 7 and injured 30.

The plan, which calls for negotiating a ceasefire and urges both sides to reaffirm commitments to the Mitchell report, has been met with approval by both Israelis and Palestinians.

The Mitchell report calls for a resumption of security cooperation, a halt to the construction of Jewish settlements in Palestinian territory and a new round of peace talks.

Fresh hopes

Dick Cheney said on Tuesday that he would return to the region within days to meet Palestinian leader Arafat, if the Palestinians begann implementing the Tenet proposal.

Cheney, who has visited 11 Middle East nations in the past 10 days, has been under criticsm by Palestinians for not scheduling a meeting with Arafat while he was in the region.

Israel’s Prime Minister has said he would let Arafat travel to Beirut for the Arab League’s summit. Sharon said he would be prepared to lift the travel ban on Araft if he carried out the truce agreement drawn up by CIA director George Tenet, which includes the withdrawal of Israeli forces to positions before September 2000, the passing on of Palestinian intelligence on further terrorist attacks and the severe crackdown on Palestinian militants.

However, Sharon added that the Israeli government would have to decide whether to allow Arafat to return if his behaviour at the summit led to "incitement".

Brokering for a truce

Sharon and Cheney held their second talks in two days, and spoke to the media following a withdrawal of Israeli troops in various towns in the West Bank.

Sharon’s order to Israeli tanks to roll back is a concession to Cheney, who is in Israel for a 24-hour visit.

Earlier this month, Israel launched one of its largest-scale military operation yet, sending thousands of troops into Palestinian towns and refugee camps in a search for Palestinian terrorists.

US efforts to broker a truce declaration between the two sides intensified last week with the arrival of US mediator Anthony Zinni. On Monday, Zinni brought Israeli and Palestinian security officials together for the first time in a month, a meeting which finally led to the withdrawal of Israeli troops in Palestinian-run areas of the West Bank.

However, Wednesday’s bus bomb blast threw a dark shadow over hopes for more peace in a region which has seen the death of scores of people since the Palestinan uprising which began 18 months ago.

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