But a senior Palestinian official on Monday said such a ceasefire would succeed only with US pressure on Israel.

   

The Palestinian Authority and Egyptian officials were to begin separate talks with the groups in Gaza in the coming days with expectations for a session including all sides in Cairo by the end of November.

 

The mediator, Egyptian intelligence chief Umar Sulayman, would send his deputy to Gaza on Wednesday, said Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath in Ram Allah.

 

"God willing, there will be a truce and a dialogue," said Sulayman after meeting Arafat and Prime Minister Ahmad Quraya in Ram Allah on Monday.    

 

Reciprocal steps

   

Palestinian officials said a truce pact would be presented to Israel with a request that it take reciprocal steps.

   

"We demand US commitments or guarantees to ensure the Israelis do not take action that leads to the collapse of a new truce," said Nabil Abu Rdainah, senior aide to President Yasir Arafat.

 

"The Americans must press Israel to stop assassinations and all forms of attacks so the new truce can survive," Rdainah said.

   

The previous truce negotiated by Sulayman held for two months before collapsing. 

 

"We want a ceasefire but we don't want another hudna like last time"

Qaddura Faris,
Palestinian minister

Last week, after receiving a green light from Washington, Sulayman met two resistance leaders-in-exile, Musa Abu Marzuk of Hamas and Ramadan Shallah of Islamic Jihad, and also Israeli security chief Avi Dichter, a senior Palestinian official said.

   

Adnan Asfur, a Hamas leader in the West Bank, said the Egyptian broker had proposed a new unilateral truce.

   

"Hamas' position is that we are ready to study a ceasefire if we receive guarantees from states - any country - that Israel will stop all forms of attacks, raids and assassinations," Asfur said.

   

Shaikh Nafiz Azzam, a top Islamic Jihad official, said any "new project" must be underpinned by "clear and sharp guarantees that Israel will be committed to halting its aggression".

      

Quraya talks

  

US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage is understood to have discussed the prospects of a new ceasefire with Egyptian officials during a visit to Cairo last week.


Quraya (L) will meet resistance
leaders later this week

Sources close to Quraya said he was expected to travel to Gaza City later this week for his own meeting with leaders of the resistance groups, whom he is seeking to persuade to halt their campaign of attacks against Israel.


Qaddura Faris, a minister without portfolio in Quraya's newly installed government, said that he believed the groups were ready for a truce, but only if it is reciprocated by Israel.

 

"We want a ceasefire but we don't want another hudna like last time," he said in reference to a unilateral truce called by the groups in June.

 

Possible talks

 

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said on Monday he could meet Quraya "in the next few days" to resume talks.  


"I think that in the next few days there will be a meeting
between the Israeli prime minister and the Palestinian one to
resume the dialogue between them," Sharon said on the first of a three-day visit to Italy. 

Israeli officials have said that Sharon hoped to set up a
meeting with Quraya after returning home from the Italian trip. Monday's comments were the clearest indication yet that an encounter might be imminent.