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ISRAEL'S security Cabinet decides not to walk away from truce

Updated:

JERUSALEM (AP) _ Israel's security Cabinet decided Wednesday not to abandon a truce deal with the Palestinians, despite a series of deadly Palestinian shooting attacks on Jewish settlers in the West Bank.

However, the ministers said in a statement that Israel retained the right to prevent attacks aimed at Israeli civilians and soldiers.

Israeli and Palestinian security officials were to meet later Wednesday to agree on the next steps outlined in the truce deal brokered by CIA chief George Tenet last week.

The Cabinet said that at the security meeting, Israel would present a plan for an Israeli troop pullback from flashpoints in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as required by the Tenet plan. However, Israeli officials would make clear to Palestinian counterparts that the redeployment would be frozen in the event of new attacks, the Cabinet said in a statement.

In the West Bank town of Nablus, meanwhile, an explosion went off in a shop selling mobile phones, injuring the owner. In the past, Islamic militants have frequently used mobile phones to trigger explosives planted in Israel.

Since the cease-fire took effect last week, three Israelis were shot dead in West Bank ambushes and four Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire, including two stone-throwers, ages 12 and 16.

Each side has accused the other of violating provisions in the deal, but has not formally abandoned it.

The security Cabinet _ a smaller group of ministers that meets once a week to address security concerns _ said it held Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat responsible for the recent attacks on Israelis.

Palestinians say Israel has not upheld its end of the bargain, lifting travel restrictions and removing roadblocks in the West Bank and Gaza. They also complain that settler vigilantes have been attacking Palestinians and damaging their property.

Ahead of its meeting, the Israeli security Cabinet was divided over whether to stick to the truce. One of the hard-liners, Public Security Minister Uzi Landau, said Israel's power of deterrence has been harmed by the recent show of restraint.

``Restraint causes us greater damage than the need to strike at the terrorists,'' Landau said. ``It has led to an increase in international intervention.''

Some Palestinians have said openly that the cease-fire does not apply to Jewish settlers in West Bank and Gaza, areas claimed by the Palestinians for a future state. At least 27 settlers have been killed in ambushes and drive-by shootings since hostilities erupted last September.

Marwan Barghouti, a leader of Arafat's Fatah movement in the West Bank, said attacks on settlers would continue. ``Fatah and all the Palestinian movements will continue their resistance against the settlers and the occupation until they leave our lands,'' Barghouti told The Associated Press.

In Madrid, Spain, Arafat blamed the settlers for the violence, but added, ``I promise, personally, and in the name of the Palestinian people, that we will do everything we can to be able to control the situation on our part with all the measures and tools at our disposal.''

Collapse of the cease-fire would be a blow to President Bush's administration. After several months on the sidelines of the Mideast conflict, Bush sent Tenet to negotiate the truce.

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