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Monday, November 27, 2006

Israeli PM offers 'hand of peace'

Last Updated: Monday, 27 November 2006, 13:54 GMT

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Israeli PM offers 'hand of peace'

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert says he hopes to revive long-stalled
peace efforts with the Palestinians, as a ceasefire takes hold in the Gaza
In a major policy speech, Mr Olmert pledged humanitarian and economic
incentives if militants freed a captive Israeli soldier and violence ceased.

Mr Olmert said the Palestinians now stood at an "historic crossroads".

The speech comes against a backdrop of increased diplomatic activity
including visits by top US officials this week.

Earlier, Israeli troops shot and killed two Palestinians in a raid in
the West Bank, one a militant and the other a 55-year-old woman.

Under the ceasefire, Palestinian militants agreed to stop rocket attacks
on Israel, and Israeli troops withdrew from Gaza.

However, rockets have continued to be fired, the latest attack hitting
the Israeli border town of Sderot on Monday afternoon. There are no reports of

Mr Olmert said Palestinians would see substantive improvements in their
lives if they chose the path of peace.

"I hold out my hand in peace to our Palestinian neighbours in the hope
that it won't be returned empty," Mr Olmert said

Mr Olmert spoke of releasing many long-term Palestinian detainees in
Israeli jails, lifting restrictions on the occupied territories, dismantling
settlements and ultimately creating a viable state.

However, he also warned of the dire consequences if violence continued.

He was speaking at an annual memorial at the grave of Israel's founding
premier David Ben-Gurion.


The BBC's Jon Leyne in Jerusalem said all Mr Olmert's pledges have been
made before, but their importance lies in the context in which they are now
being made.

Palestinian militant groups have warned that the ceasefire which came
into force on Sunday could collapse unless Israel halts military operations in
the West Bank.

Monday's deaths were in the town of Qabatiya near Jenin in the northern
West Bank.

The official Palestinian news agency said the woman had been shot as she
went to the aid of and injured militant from the Popular Resistance
committees. The Israeli army said she had been trying to recover his gun.

The last four months have seen an upsurge of violence in the Gaza Strip
which has killed more than 300 Palestinians, including scores of civilians.
Five Israelis have also died.

Israeli troops re-entered Gaza - which they quit more than a year ago in
a unilateral withdrawal - after Palestinian militants captured a soldier in a
cross-border raid in June.

Mr Olmert won elections in January on a pledge to make further
unilateral withdrawals, but credibility in the policy was dashed in a summer
of conflict in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip.

In March, the Hamas militant movement won Palestinian elections on a
platform of not recognising Israel's right to exist. Israel has ruled out
political engagement with the Palestinians until Hamas softens its stance.

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