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Israel willing to talk with Syria if it ends support for Hezbollah

New suicide bombing injures 2

SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt (CNN) -- Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer sent a message through Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak Wednesday saying that if Syria drops its support for Hezbollah guerrillas, Israel would be willing to resume talks.

There have been no major talks between Israel and Syria since early in 2000.

The diplomatic activity followed reports of a new suicide bombing earlier Wednesday from the central Israeli town of Taibeh. The bombing left two members of the Israeli security service with light wounds, according to the Israeli prime minister's office. The bomber was killed.

The talks between Ben-Eliezer and Mubarak are seeking ways to reduce the violence between Israelis and Palestinians in the hope the two sides can begin implementing a cease-fire proposal from CIA Director George Tenet and the Mitchell Committee report on a Middle East peace.

On Wednesday, Ben-Eliezer also told Mubarak that Israel needs to be convinced that the Palestinians want peace before negotiations with them can resume, said Israeli spokeswoman Aylett Yahiv. Ben-Eliezer went to Sharm el-Sheikh at the invitation of Mubarak.

A recent upsurge of violence in the region -- Wednesday's reported suicide bombing being the latest incident -- has seen increased terror attacks by Palestinian militants against Israeli soldiers and civilians followed by retaliatory strikes by Israel. Political relations between the Israel and the Palestinians were further strained by the discovery earlier in January of a shipload of 50 tons of missiles and other arms that apparently was destined for the Palestinian territories.

CNN's Rula Amin looks at the increasing problems facing Palestinian Chairman Arafat [January 29]

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In-Depth: Mideast Struggle for Peace 

The United States has said there is credible evidence that officials high in the Palestinian Authority knew about the arms shipment. Israel has said the weapons shipment was arranged by Hezbollah with the help of Iran.

Yahiv said Ben-Eliezer and Mubarak also discussed Israel's interception of the arms shipment. Yahiv would not disclose the substance of those discussions.

Mubarak called Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat on Tuesday, the first telephone conversation between the two leaders since the arms shipment was seized January 3.

Hezbollah is a militant group whose stated objective was to drive all "occupying" forces out of Lebanon. Hezbollah is also devoted to establishing an Iran-style Islamic state in Lebanon, according to the U.S. State Department.

Hezbollah's arsenal of weapons includes rockets and missiles, as well as unconventional means of attacks such as car bombs and booby-traps. The United States and Israel label Hezbollah a terrorist group, and the United States believes Hezbollah gets large amounts of aid from Syria and Iran.

Sharon approves Jerusalem security plan

Mubarak said that if relations between the Israelis and Palestinians improve, he would consider sending an Egyptian ambassador back to Israel. More than a year ago, Egypt recalled its ambassador as a sign of displeasure over worsening relations between Israel and the Palestinians.

Arafat has come under increasing pressure from the United States, Israel and Europe to crack down on terrorists in territory under Palestinian control since a string of attacks in December that killed more than 30 Israelis.

In mid-December Arafat called for a general cease-fire and an end to terrorist attacks against Israelis. The attacks have continued, however, and Israel and the United States have said Arafat is not doing enough to end the violence.

The December terror bombings prompted the Israeli Cabinet to cut ties with Arafat and sanction retaliatory strikes on the West Bank and Gaza.

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon gave preliminary approval for a security plan for Jerusalem and said he would present it to his security cabinet.

The plan, drawn up by the Israel Defense Forces, will not involve dividing the city with checkpoints and barriers, Sharon said. He said the city would be treated as an undivided city including both Palestinian and Israeli neighborhoods.

Several Israeli newspapers carried accounts Wednesday quoting Palestinian sources as saying Sharon was using the plan to annex more Palestinian territory into Jerusalem.

Al Aqsa, Islamic Jihad claim responsibility for suicide bombing

Earlier Wednesday in the town of Taibeh near the West Bank, the Israeli security service Shin Beit was involved in an operation when a suicide bomber exploded a device attached to himself near a security force vehicle. The incident is under investigation, the Israeli prime minister's office reported.

The Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the military wing of Arafat's Fatah movement, and Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the suicide bomber attack, saying it was a joint operation by both groups.




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