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Diplomats intensify efforts to protect Mideast cease-fire

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Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, right, smiles as he shakes hands with Russian special envoy Andrei Vdovin, after a meeting at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem on Tuesday  


From Mike Hanna
CNN Jerusalem Bureau Chief

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Intense diplomatic efforts continued throughout the Middle East on Tuesday, in an attempt to ensure that the relative cease-fire between Israelis and Palestinians doesn't crumble.

Special Russian envoy Andrei Vdovin met with Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres on Tuesday morning.

Peres has said he's looking to a long period of cooling off, at least eight weeks, before recommendations of the Mitchell report could begin to be implemented.

Former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell, who chairs an independent, international five-man committee investigating the violence, issued a report last month with suggested steps for resumption of the peace process. (More on Mitchell report)

There does appear to be a convergence of diplomatic efforts in the Middle East, including German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, who has been shuttling between Israeli and Palestinian officials. Fischer was meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Tuesday.

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There is conflicting information over the participation of militant Islamic group Hamas in a cease-fire. Following a meeting late Monday between Palestininan Authority President Yasser Arafat and leaders of his Fatah movement and the Islamic fundamentalist group Hamas, a statement was released saying they will not carry out attacks in Israel if Israeli forces stop targeting Palestinians, but warned of a harsher-than-ever response if Israel did not.

But a senior Hamas official disagreed.

Mahmoud Al-Zahhar said he couldn't say whether the statement was genuine, but said it was not endorsed by the political leadership.

"We have no change in our previous policy," Al-Zahhar said. "We are not changing our policy, so resistance means: to attack Israel everywhere by all means. No cease-fire."

The initial statement appeared to be in response to Arafat's declaration of a cease-fire, a step that followed by several days a similar declaration by Israel.

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A Palestinian man carries an injured youth Monday to an ambulance during an exchange of fire between Palestinians and Israeli troops at Rafah in southern Gaza  

"When we are talking about the so-called cease-fire, this means~ between two armies," Hamas spiritual leader Ahmed Yassin told The Associated Press. "We are~ not an army. We are people who defend themselves and work against~ the aggression."

Last week, Israel declared a unilateral cease-fire in the Israeli-Palestinian fighting.

On Tuesday, a known Fatah operative was critically wounded in an explosion. It was not immediately clear who was responsible. Palestinians blamed Israel. Israel Defense Forces officials said they were investigating.

At least six Palestinians were said to have been wounded during a rock-tossing incident at a checkpoint near Ramallah in the West Bank. Israeli Army radio said demonstrators began throwing stones after a demonstration by Palestinians to mark 34 years since the Israeli victory in the Six Day War.

On Monday, the cease-fire was strained by heavy exchanges of gunfire between Palestinians and Israeli soldiers at Rafah in southern Gaza. At least 18 Palestinians were injured, two of them seriously, Palestinian hospital officials said. Three Israeli soldiers were slightly injured.

The Israelis and Palestinians blamed each other for Monday's violence.








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