Israel, Palestinians OK timetable for peace talks
JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Israel and the Palestinians have agreed to a timetable for resuming peace talks that includes a six-week cooling-off period, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said Thursday.
The agreement came despite the killing of an Israeli woman by Palestinian gunmen Thursday, the latest bloodshed to test a fragile truce between the two sides.
Powell outlined the agreement in a news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that followed an earlier session with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
"We see the continuation of this as follows: Complete and utter cessation of terrorist actions, of violence and of incitement, and as soon as complete quiet exists, there will be seven days of trial or tests in order to see how the Palestinian Authority manages to keep its undertakings," Powell said.
"Then a period will start of six weeks, a cooling-down period, and throughout that entire period complete quiet must prevail," he said.
After that period, the parties will begin a series of confidence-building measures, as outlined in the Mitchell Committee report last month, that would lead to a resumption of negotiations.
"We hope that quiet will prevail and that we all will be able to proceed to peace as quickly as possible," Sharon said.
Powell has been in the region since Wednesday trying to coax both sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict into taking the next steps recommended by the Mitchell Committee.
Sharon contends the Palestinians are not honoring the 2-week-old cease-fire brokered by CIA Director George Tenet. He has said Israel is unwilling to take further steps until there are at least 10 days without violence.
Earlier Thursday, Palestinian gunmen fired on an Israeli car near the West Bank town of Jenin, killing one woman and lightly injuring another, Israel military officials said. Powell said the killing "reminds us of how we must move forward and get this violence ended.
"In my conversations this afternoon with Arafat we discussed this in considerable detail," Powell said. "And he responded to me, he would take every effort he could to end the violence, to give the necessary instructions to speak out against violence."
About 600 people have been killed -- the majority of them Palestinian -- in nine months of fighting since a Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation erupted last September after peace negotiations deadlocked.
Despite the agreement, some points of contention remained Thursday: Arafat insisted that international monitors be a part of confidence-building measures between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and Powell supported that idea. But Sharon said observers were mostly unnecessary.
For months, the Palestinians have been calling for an international monitoring force. Israel has rejected the idea and the United States has said such a force would not work unless both sides agree.
Powell said the composition of such an observer force had not been determined, but he added, "There is clear understanding of the need for some kind of monitoring observer function."
Arafat also pressed Powell to get Israel to freeze settlement activity, another provision to the Mitchell report.
"There is so much pain ... inflicted on our people. Our land is being confiscated, settlements are being constructed," Arafat said.
The Mitchell Committee report on the Middle East calls for the two parties to declare a cease-fire, enter a cooling-off period, then begin a third phase of confidence-building measures that would ultimately lead to the resumption of peace negotiations.
The Israelis have accused Arafat of not publicly acknowledging his support for the Mitchell Committee recommendations.
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