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Israel Agrees to Mideast Security Talks

Schweddy

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Source: Yahoo News

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip - Israeli and Palestinian leaders pledged Wednesday to hold security talks on a joint effort toward halting surging violence, officials said, heading off the possibility of a large-scale Israeli invasion to stop rocket and mortar fire in Gaza.

The decision came as the top Palestinian security chief ordered a deployment of troops along the Gaza-Israel frontier to stop rocket and mortar attacks — the first concrete steps to rein in militants since the election of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.




Israel broke off contacts with Abbas' government after a Jan. 13 attack on a vital Gaza-Israel crossing point killed six Israelis. But the ban came under criticism from the United States, the United Nations, Egypt and Jordan — and it lasted only a few days.



After a meeting of his Security Cabinet on Wednesday, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's office issued a statement saying "a security meeting will be held at the field commander level to coordinate security steps."



Palestinian officials said the talks would take place at the Erez checkpoint between Gaza and Israel later Wednesday.



The sudden turnabout defused escalating tension that appeared to be leading toward an Israeli invasion, clashes with Palestinian gunmen and possibly dozens of casualties.



Israel's Security Cabinet was considering military action to stop the barrages of mortars and rockets aimed at Jewish settlements and Israeli towns just outside Gaza, when the Palestinian leadership called for security talks toward cooperation in ending the violence, officials said.



The appeal, coupled with the decision by the Palestinian police commander to deploy forces along the border to stop the rocket attacks, was enough for Israel's new, more moderate government to put off a military strike and give renewed talks a chance.



Dalia Itzik, a Cabinet minister from the dovish Labor Party, said Israeli pressure led to Palestinian pledges for action. "It's good that they're going to talk," she told Army Radio. Sharon brought Labor into his coalition government to provide crucial backing for his Gaza pullout plan, and its presence is likely to moderate government policy.

However, the Security Cabinet also approved military action if talks fail. Sharon noted both options on Wednesday.

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