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Israel moves to reopen Rafah crossing

Israeli soldiers
Israeli soldiers on patrol as tensions remain high in Mideast  

TEL AVIV, Israel (CNN) -- The Israeli Defense Ministry said Friday that Israeli troops may reopen the Rafah Crossing and ease closures restricting Palestinians in the area Sunday, depending on the level of violence.

The Rafah area is in southern Gaza on the border with Egypt.

The ministry statement came after a meeting between Israeli and Palestinian security officials attended by the CIA. The statement said the Palestinians had promised to exert "maximum effort to stop the shootings in Rafah."

Earlier, Palestinian sources said the two sides could not agree when so-called "confidence-building measures" would begin. The Palestinians said they wanted the closures lifted and Israeli troops to begin pulling back immediately. The Israelis, they said, have refused, wanting a period of quiet before those measures go into effect.

In-Depth: Mideast Struggle for Peace  
Muslims mark Intifada anniversary  

But the defense ministry statement said the two sides had agreed to carry on with implementing the terms of a cease-fire brokered by CIA Director George Tenet. Israel pressed the Palestinians to arrest people accused of carrying out violent acts, and the two sides also agreed to meet again.

The agreements came despite continued violence that killed three Palestinians on Friday.

There have been no meetings between Israeli and Palestinian security forces for weeks. The decision for them to meet Friday came out of the Arafat-Peres meeting Wednesday.

It also came as Palestinians marked the first anniversary of their uprising against Israel -- the al-Aqsa Intifada.

The United States has pressed hard for the two sides to make progress on putting the Mitchell Committee recommendations on a Middle East peace into effect. The United States has told Israel and the Palestinians it believes the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is hurting U.S. attempts to build a coalition against terrorism.

In addition to the three Palestinians killed in new fighting, a fourth died of wounds suffered in earlier fighting.

In Hebron, the Palestine Red Crescent Society reported a 10-year-old boy and a 25-year-old man had been shot and killed. Eleven others were injured.

Israeli security forces said a firefight had occurred. Palestinian sources said Israeli tanks had shelled an area of Hebron.

The Red Crescent said a 16-year-old Palestinian was killed by a gunshot wound to the back in fighting at En-khaber near Bethlehem. He was identified as Makhmoud Zakariyeh.

Palestinian sources said that four Palestinians were injured in fighting at Jericho and nine were wounded at Ramallah.

A three-minute standstill was observed at 12:30 p.m. (1030 GMT, 6:30 a.m. ET) in Gaza and the West Bank to mark the Intifada anniversary. More than 650 Palestinians and more than 170 Israelis have died during the violence.

Israeli police were out in force in Jerusalem and allowed only those Palestinians carrying an Israeli identity card -- men must be over the age of 40 to carry a card -- to attend prayers in the al-Aqsa Mosque in the al-Haram al-Sharif compound in Jerusalem's walled old city.

Israel Radio reported about 20,000 people attended Friday prayers at the al-Haram al-Sharif.

The Intifada began after Ariel Sharon, who was then an opposition leader but is now Israel's prime minister, visited al-Haram al-Sharif, a Muslim holy site that is also revered by Jews as the Temple Mount.


• Israel preserves Mideast truce
September 21, 2001
• Violence postpones Mideast meeting
September 20, 2001
• Militants rejects truce
September 19, 2001

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