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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Mideast Sides Mull Saudi Proposal

JERUSALEM -- Israel and the Palestinians agreed to resume security talks Tuesday despite a new burst of violence, Palestinian officials said, and Israel's defense minister asked his government not to reject a new Saudi peace plan.

In new fighting, three Palestinian civilians, including a 15-month-old baby, were wounded by Israeli tank fire, doctors said. In the Israeli port city of Haifa, police arrested a suspected Palestinian gunman, while a second suspect escaped.

On Monday, three Israelis were killed in Palestinian shooting attacks and two Palestinians were shot dead by Israeli troops.

Despite the tensions, Israeli and Palestinian security officials agreed to resume talks Tuesday evening, said Mohammed Dahlan, a Palestinian security official. Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said earlier that the security contacts -- suspended over the weekend after Israel's refusal to end Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's confinement to the West Bank town of Ramallah -- should resume quickly.

Meanwhile, there was growing interest in Israel in the Saudi proposal under which Israel would withdraw from virtually all the territories it occupied in the 1967 Mideast war in return for comprehensive peace between Israel and the Arab world.

Ben-Eliezer said in a statement that the plan "contains positive elements and should be encouraged." He also said that "it must not be rejected," a comment apparently aimed at hard-line Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

In praising the intiative, Ben-Eliezer joined Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, also a member of the center-left Labor Party.

Sharon advisers said they were still trying to hear from U.S. officials whether the Saudis were serious. "We think it is too early to comment on the substance on the basis of media reports," said Danny Ayalon, a Sharon aide. "However, if we find there is something to it, we will respond accordingly."

The Palestinians and moderate Arabs have welcomed the Saudi idea, and U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said it was an important step he hoped would be fleshed out in the next few weeks.

Sharon has fiercely opposed a total pullout. But he knows Israelis are despondent over 17 months of dead-end conflict and eager for a ray of hope. The Saudi proposal offers two things Israel craves: broad acceptance by Arab states and a negotiating partner beyond Arafat. However, any discussion of significant concessions to Palestinians could undermine Sharon's governing coalition -- a patchwork of parties with widely divergent positions on the land-for-peace idea.

Israel's influential Haaretz daily urged Sharon in an editorial Tuesday to give the Saudi plan serious consideration.

"The Saudi plan is an opportunity to sign a peace treaty with most of the Arab world [except for countries such as Libya and Iraq], including the Palestinians," the editorial said.

Another newspaper, Maariv, published a front-page commentary by its editor, Amnon Dankner, in support of the Saudi plan.

Written as a letter to Sharon, the commentary said that "the Saudi initiative could be the straw that saves you."

Palestinian Cabinet Minister Saeb Erekat said that for the initiative to succeed, "a firm American and international position [of support] has to be taken."

In Riyadh, an editorial in the Saudi newspaper Al Watan said no Israeli-Saudi visits will be held until a Mideast peace agreement has been reached.

On Monday, Israeli President Moshe Katsav informally invited Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah to Jerusalem to detail the Saudi proposal. Katsav also said he would go to Riyadh if invited.

In new fighting Tuesday, three Palestinian civilians were wounded by Israeli tank and machine-gun fire toward their homes in the Rafah refugee camp, doctors said.

An 18-year-old was seriously wounded, and a 15-month-old girl and her 25-year-old mother were hurt by shrapnel, doctors at Rafah's hospital said.