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Israel ready to hold talks despite weekend attacks
JERUSALEM -- Israel and the Palestinians said they were willing to hold high-level truce talks on Tuesday, despite a series of deadly weekend attacks by Arab militants, but remained at odds over where the meetings should take place.
In renewed violence in the West Bank Tuesday, two Israelis were killed in a Palestinian shooting attack near the town of Tulkarem, army radio reported. Police said there was an exchange of fire near the border and there were casualties. Also, Israeli troops massed near Jenin, the town used by attackers to plan a suicide bombing, according to Israel officials.
Even if Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat settle the disagreement over the venue -- Egypt or the Erez crossing near the Gaza Strip -- there is little expectation the talks would produce a cease-fire.
The sides were unable to agree on a site by midnight Monday. It wasn't known if the discussions over a venue were continuing into the early hours Tuesday, or if they had been suspended and would resume later.
Previous U.S.-led truce efforts have failed to stop nearly a year of fighting and the Palestinians suspect Peres has only a limited mandate, while Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon remains distrustful of Arafat's intentions.
Also, Arafat's planned meeting Wednesday in Damascus with Syrian President Bashar Assad, a staunch opponent of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, was seen as a possible signal the Palestinians are hardening their stance toward Israel.
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said he was trying to help renew Israeli-Palestinian security talks and that he spoke with Peres by telephone three times in recent days.
Late Monday, Israeli tanks, infantry and heavy earth-moving equipment massed in Israel across from the West Bank town of Jenin, witnesses said.
Palestinian security officials said Israeli tanks were converging on the town at the northern edge of the West Bank from four directions. The Israeli military refused to comment.