RAMALLAH, West Bank -- Egypt will send its intelligence chief to Palestinian areas next week in a renewed effort to press militant groups to halt attacks on Israel, Palestinian officials said yesterday.
The visit by General Omar Suleiman comes amid growing Palestinian concerns that Israel will impose its own borders on the West Bank if peace efforts break down.
With Egyptian backing, Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei has been trying to persuade the militant groups to commit to a truce as a step toward resuming peace talks with Israel. Suleiman has led the Egyptian mediation efforts. His visit next week follows a meeting Thursday between Egyptian presidential envoy Osama el Baz and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
During the talks, Egypt agreed to a request from Arafat to resume its mediation efforts with the militant groups, said Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian minister of negotiations. A date for Suleiman's trip has not been set, he added.
Egyptian officials were not available for comment yesterday.
The cease-fire efforts come at a sensitive time. Israel carried out an unsuccessful missile strike in the Gaza Strip this week aimed at two members of the Hamas militant group. Hamas vowed revenge. Last week, Israel killed three Islamic Jihad militants in a similar airstrike, while a Palestinian suicide bomber killed four Israelis near Tel Aviv.
Last night, a large roadside bomb blew up next to an Israeli military jeep in Nablus, causing no injuries, the army said. Since taking office in October, Qurei has made a truce a top priority. But the efforts have so far been unsuccessful. Egyptian-sponsored talks in Cairo last month ended without agreement.
A truce commitment by the Palestinians could pave the way toward full-fledged negotiations on the US-backed "road map" -- a peace plan that envisions an independent Palestinian state by 2005. Militant groups have been reluctant to commit to a truce, citing Israel's continuing military operations. Yesterday, some 4,000 people joined a demonstration sponsored by the Islamic Jihad group in the Jabaliya refugee camp in Gaza. The rally marked the death of military wing leader Meklad Hameid, who was killed in last week's Israeli airstrike.