US envoy brokers Israeli-Palestinian talks

15 December 2003
Senior Israeli and Palestinian officials agreed to meet on 15 December after two days of negotiations between the two sides and US State Department officials. The meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's top adviser, Dov Weisglas, and Palestinian chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, has been described by observers as a preliminary meeting for talks between Sharon and his Palestinian counterpart, Ahmed Qurei (Abu Ala).

Soon after the news of the meeting emerged, officials in Cairo announced that an Egyptian team would lead two days of peace talks in Gaza City between the Palestinian Authority and Palestinian militant groups operating in the Occupied Territories. The next round of negotiations, aimed at reaching a ceasefire with Israel, follows the Cairo peace talks in early December, which failed to reach an agreement on a possible ceasefire.

The peace negotiations were overshadowed by more deaths in the Occupied Territories. The Israel Defence Force (IDF) on 15 December killed two Palestinians in the eastern Gaza Strip near the controversial 'security fence'. Local reports indicated that the deaths occurred when IDF soldiers fired on a group of six Palestinians when they approached the barrier. Four uninjured men were reported to have crossed into Israel from the Gaza Strip.

In a separate incident, the IDF demolished eight buildings in Khan Younis during a military raid aimed at destroying buildings allegedly used by militants for firing mortars. No casualties were reported during the raid, despite heavy gunfire from both sides.

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