The talks will discuss a possible Israeli pullback from Palestinian towns to the pre-September line, the freeing of Palestinian prisoners and a halt to Israel's extra-judicial killings of Palestinian fighters.

 

News of the renewed negotiations came as Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmad Quraya signed an order banning unauthorised Palestinians from carrying weapons.

 

Resistance groups have ignored similar edicts issued by the Palestinian Authority in the past.

  

At the same time, Palestinian officials urged Israel to move quickly to declare a reciprocal ceasefire.

 

Palestinian groups have earlier
ignored weapon-ban orders

After meeting with US Assistant Secretary of State William Burns, Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas said he needed a solemn promise from Israel that it would hold its fire in order to get resistance groups behind a truce they insist must be mutual.

   

"The Israelis have to respond quickly. We cannot wait for a week or two," Abbas said in the West Bank city of Ram Allah.

 

Abbas, elected president on 9 January on a platform of ending more than four years of conflict, has been pursuing a truce deal with Hamas and other resistance groups.

 

Sharon satisfied

 

For his part, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, in an interview published on Thursday, said he was very satisfied with efforts by Abbas, also known as Abu Mazin, to restore calm and pledged to pursue peace with him. 

"The Israelis have to respond quickly. We cannot wait for a
week or two"

Mahmud Abbas,
Palestinian president

   

"There is no doubt that Abu Mazin has begun to work," Sharon told the Yediot Ahronoth daily in Jerusalem.

   

"I am very satisfied with what I hear is happening on the Palestinian side, and I have a serious interest in advancing the process with him,"  he said.

 

"I believe the conditions have been created to permit us and the Palestinians to reach a historic breakthrough, a breakthrough that will lead us to security and peace," Sharon said in a speech to a business group.

 

He said that if the Palestinians work to "end terrorism, incitement and violence", Israel could be ready to move forward with contacts on a road map peace plan that would lead to a Palestinian state.

 

A Palestinian official said Israel had already agreed to free 500 of some 7000 Palestinians it is holding. Israeli political sources confirmed Israel was considering letting hundreds of prisoners out as a goodwill gesture to Abbas.