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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Cease-Fire Efforts Gather Steam

JERUSALEM -- U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney said Tuesday he would meet with Yasser Arafat if a Middle East truce took hold. In that case, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said he was ready to lift a travel ban on the Palestinian leader.

Cheney said the United States would remain "very actively engaged" in truce efforts led by U.S. envoy Anthony Zinni, who has reported some progress toward a cease-fire declaration.

Cheney has drawn complaints from Palestinians for not meeting with Arafat during his 24-hour visit to Israel.

On Monday, Israel presented its timetable for implementing a cease-fire brokered last year by CIA chief George Tenet. Israel said it would need about a month to carry out its obligations, Palestinian security officials said. The Palestinians are to present their plan Wednesday, and if agreement is reached, a truce could be declared after that session, according to Palestinian officials.

Concerning other Middle East issues, Cheney said no decision had yet been taken on whether to attack Iraq. "There has been great press speculation about the possibility of a military action against Iraq," Cheney said. "No such decision has been made."

On Monday, U.S. President George W. Bush acknowledged the view of Arab leaders who told Cheney the United States should not take military action against Iraq. But the president said he would not let Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein "hold the United States and our friends and allies hostage."

The intensified U.S. effort to broker an Israeli-Palestinian truce came after one of the bloodiest periods in the 18-month conflict, and has led to a toning down of the rhetoric and some steps on the ground.

After Monday's meeting of security officials, Israel agreed to withdraw troops from all Palestinian-run areas, which make up about a fifth of the West Bank and two-thirds of the Gaza Strip.

Earlier this month, Israel had launched its largest-scale military operation in a generation, sending thousands of troops into Palestinian towns and refugee camps in a hunt for Palestinian militants who have carried out attacks on Israeli civilians.

Since last week, Israeli forces have gradually pulled back. Before dawn Tuesday, Israeli tanks pulled out of the West Bank town of Bethlehem and surrounding areas, the army said.

The military said soldiers also left Palestinian-controlled territories in the northern Gaza Strip early Tuesday, a claim disputed by Palestinian security officials.

A reporter saw several tanks in Palestinian-controlled territory near the Jewish settlement of Elei Sinai in the northern Gaza Strip. The army said it would look into the discrepancy.