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Zinni in talks with Palestinians

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- U.S. envoy Anthony Zinni met with Palestinian officials in the Middle East on Saturday, halfway through his visit, which has been characterized by reduced violence.

Zinni, in the region for four days, met with Palestinian Council speaker Ahmad Qorei and was expected to hold talks with other Palestinian leaders, including chief negotiator Saeb Erakat.

His mediation efforts continue Sunday with a trilateral security meeting involving the U.S., Israeli and Palestinian security officials. The retired Marine general is scheduled to return to the United States on Monday but is expected to make more trips to the Middle East to help broker a lasting cease-fire.

CNN's Mike Hanna says a new cache of weapons that have been captured puts more pressure on the tenuous Mideast peace process (January 4)

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In-Depth: Mideast Struggle for Peace 
Zinni: Old hand in troubled region 

On Friday, Zinni met separately with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, saying afterward that he was optimistic that a real cease-fire is possible.

Zinni broke off his first Mideast mission in early December after a series of suicide bombing attacks on Israeli civilians by Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the assassination of an Israeli Cabinet minister.

Arafat then called for a halt to attacks in a televised address on December 16. Afterward, Hamas said it would suspend strikes inside Israel. Islamic Jihad said it would do nothing to disrupt Palestinian unity, believed to be a signal its attacks would stop.

Hamas runs mosques, schools and clinics for Palestinians, but has a military wing that conducts military and terror strikes. Palestinian Islamic Jihad is a militant group dedicated to the creation of an Islamic Palestinian state and the destruction of Israel.

Since Arafat's call for a halt, violent incidents have dropped by about 50 percent, Israeli officials have said.

As Zinni carried on his mediation efforts, Israeli officials said Friday they had seized a ship in the Red Sea, owned by the Palestinian Authority, that was carrying 50 tons of weapons.

Palestinian officials shortly afterward denied any connection with the ship. Palestinian Authority spokesman Nabil Abu Rudieneh said the Israeli announcement of the seizure was an Israeli attempt to undermine Zinni's mission to the region.


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