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Israelis, Palestinians hold surprise meeting at border crossing
No word on results; diplomatic activity on rise
EREZ CROSSING, Gaza (CNN) -- A high-level meeting between Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh and Tayeb Abdel-Rahim, the secretary general of the Palestinian Authority, took place on Thursday at Erez Crossing, hours after an Israeli soldier was killed at the spot in a gunbattle with Palestinians.
Neither official spoke with reporters after the meeting, but further meetings -- between Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat and U.N. Special Envoy Terje Roed Larsen -- took place Thursday, before Arafat's trip to Moscow for a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday.
In a CNN interview following his talk with Arafat, Larsen said the meeting was encouraging.
They talked about the need for "some confidence building measures to halt the current cycle of escalation. Second (we) need to restart political dialogue, and thirdly and lastly, we need to begin to address the underlying causes -- mainly the final status issues, which are issues of Jerulsalem , refugees, land, security, etc," Larsen said.
Earlier, Israel ordered Palestinians to evacuate all joint liaison offices in the West Bank and Gaza after a Palestinian mortar attack killed an Israeli soldier at an office in southern Gaza.
That attack was separate from the one at Erez Crossing that left one soldier dead and another severely wounded.
The Palestinians posted at several District Coordination Offices (DCOs) said they would not leave until ordered to do so by Arafat.
The evacuation order was another sign of the damage done to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process by the last two months of violence: The offices are the last remaining tangible evidence of cooperation between Palestinian and Israeli security forces.
The liaison offices were set up under the terms of the Oslo agreement and were to monitor and coordinate cooperation between the Israelis and Palestinians on civil matters.
The attack on the liaison office also wounded three Israeli soldiers and at least two Palestinians.
Hamas activist killed in car
At least two Palestinians were reported dead as well, including a 10-year-old boy killed in northern Gaza. In the West Bank town of Nablus, Palestinian officials reported the death of a Hamas activist in a mysterious explosion that they initially blamed on Israeli missiles.
But Israel denied activity in the Nablus region, and Palestinian officials later said that explosives had been hidden in the headrest of the activist's car.
Meanwhile, funerals were held in Gaza for four Palestinians killed on Wednesday by Israeli troops who said the four tried to run an army roadblock. The Israeli army said one of the four was a wanted militant, but the Palestinians said all four were unarmed civilians.
In Israel, friends and families gathered to lay to rest two Israelis killed in the northern town of Hadera when a car bomb exploded alongside a bus on a busy city street. More than 50 people were wounded in that attack, claimed by two militant Palestinian groups.
More than 270 people -- the majority of them Palestinians or Israeli Arabs -- have been killed since the latest round of violence exploded on September 28.
Arafat reportedly ready for resumption of talks
The explosions and killings appeared to further damage the stalled Mideast peace process, even as Arafat -- who called the Hadera bus attack an "act of terrorism" -- signaled he may be ready to return to peace negotiations.
Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami said he was told by U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright that she had spoken to Arafat and that he wanted to resume deadlocked peace talks.
"I don't know if it is a serious proposal, but this is at least what (Arafat) did in a phone call he initiated to (Albright)," Ben-Ami said on Israel public radio. "This is what she told me last night."
"If there is anything real in this ... it could be that there is a certain signaling of distress and a desire to get out of this cycle," he said. "It is our obligation to allow the Americans to check out this thing."
Ben-Ami said Albright called him after Israel's security Cabinet met to discuss the car bomb in Hadera, which also wounded 55 people.
The Izz el-Deen al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, claimed responsibility on Thursday for the attack, the second group to do so. An earlier claim of responsibility came from a previously unknown group calling itself the Islamic Revolution for the Liberation of Palestine.
Israeli officials were meeting to discuss their response to the Hadera bombing. The Israeli government has already warned that it intends to "settle its accounts" with the bombers.
Putin to meet with Arafat in Moscow
Meanwhile, the Kremlin said Arafat will meet Putin in Moscow on Friday at the Palestinians' request.
Both Arafat and Israel have repeatedly urged Russia to get more involved in efforts to halt the continuing Israeli-Palestinian violence.
But at least one regional leader, Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Abdullah, said he saw no breakthrough in the crisis. Israel, he said, had "no shame, no humanity, no morals and no principles."
"We can never, never abandon Jerusalem, because the dignity of Jerusalem is the same as the dignity of a Muslim," Abdullah, quoted by Saudi newspapers on Thursday, said. "Muslims' dignity comes first, and then Arabs and then other religions except the usurper Jews who are carrying out this war against children who are fighting back with stones," he said.
Israeli cabinet considers response to bus bombing
Israeli Foreign Ministry
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