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U.S. Rejoins Mideast Peace Quest

After four years of keeping its distance, the U.S. is jumping back in to the Middle East peace process.

Envoy William Burns will visit Israel, the West Bank and Gaza this week, reports CBS News Correspondent Robert Berger, in a new U.S. effort to revive the road map peace plan.

It's an opportune time. The new Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas is close to securing a truce with Islamic militant groups, and Israel says it, too, is ready for a cease-fire.

In other developments:

  • Palestinian forces will take up positions in the southern Gaza Strip by midweek, completing their deployment across the coastal territory in another step toward ending more than four years of conflict with Israel, a Palestinian cabinet minister said Tuesday.
  • Leaders of the Islamic militant group Hamas were to hold a news conference in Gaza City later Tuesday. A senior Hamas leader in the West Bank has said the group has agreed to suspend attacks for 30 days, to test Israel's response, while other Hamas members emphasized that a truce deal is not yet complete.
  • Palestinian Authority workers began demolishing illegal buildings next to Gaza City early Tuesday, signaling that new Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas intends to enforce laws that have been long ignored.
  • Israel has issued an ominous warning about Iran's nuclear capabilities, reports Berger. The head of Israel's Mossad spy agency says Iran will be able to enrich uranium by the end of 2005, and build a nuclear bomb a year or two after that. "This is a global threat, not just to Israel, not even just to the Middle East, but to the entire free world," said Israeli parliament member Yuval Shteinitz
  • Israel's vice premier, Shimon Peres, is pushing to get a cargo train running from Gaza to Israel's Ashdod port after Israel withdraws from the coastal strip this summer, a Peres aide said Tuesday. The 12½-mile train line would provide a lifeline for the isolated coastal strip, said the aide, Yoram Dori. Some 1.3 million Palestinians live in Gaza, which is plagued by poverty and high unemployment. Construction of a Gaza City port was suspended during more than four years of Israeli-Palestinian fighting.
  • Israel has resumed building one of the most controversial parts of its West Bank security barrier, 2½-mile segment of the West Bank barrier near the Jewish settlement of Ariel. An Israeli court suspended construction in this area 7 months ago, on grounds that West Bank land was being confiscated. The new route confiscates a smaller portion of disputed territory, but Palestinians still say it's a land grab.

    Israeli and Palestinian generals were to meet later Tuesday to complete the deployment plan, said cabinet minister Saeb Erekat. Once the plan is approved, officers will take up positions in southern Gaza within 24 hours, he said.

    The deployment is accompanied by a promise by militants to Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to halt attacks on Israel, provided the Israeli military suspends operations, including arrest raids and targeted killings of wanted men. Israel has refused to give such a guarantee, but has said it will respond to calm with calm.

    Over the weekend, some 3,000 Palestinian police deployed in the northern half of Gaza, mainly along the border fence with Israel, to prevent rocket attacks by Palestinian militants on Israeli communities. No rockets or mortars have hit Israeli communities since last week.

    In Tuesday's meeting, the Israeli and Palestinian generals are to discuss police deployment in the southern half of Gaza, said Erekat, who is involved in negotiations with Israel. The meeting is to be attended by Palestinian Maj. Gen. Moussa Arafat and Israeli Brig. Gen. Aviv Kochavi.

    Erekat said he has been in touch by phone with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's aides to prepare for a future summit between the Israeli and Palestinian leaders. He said contacts with Israel are going well, but that the two sides have not yet begun to discuss the content of a summit.

    The Palestinians want to reach agreement before the summit on key issues, such as the release of prisoners and an Israeli troop redeployment in the West Bank.

    Palestinian police commander Moussa Allaian said hundreds of structures would be torn down in Gaza City and the northern part of the coastal strip. Dozens of shops, cafes and kiosks have sprung up along the Mediterranean beach in recent years.

    More than 200 heavily armed Palestinian police in uniform lined the street to protect the workers, but there was no violence and no resistance. A large crowd watched as two bulldozers leveled the structures.

    Allaian said Abbas gave the order for the after-midnight operation.

    "The president gave strict instructions to remove all buildings built illegally on government land," he said. "We are a new era now. We must respect the law," Allaian said.

    There was no Israeli involvement, he said, and the operation was not near Israel or any Israeli settlements.

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