Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's Cabinet met in Jerusalem Sunday to map out a strategy for expected talks with their new Palestinian opposite numbers as Sharon's counterpart expressed confidence he could secure a new ceasefire.
"We will reach a ceasefire agreement and start negotiations [with Israel] to end the conflict and live as good neighbors," Palestinian premier Ahmed Qureia told the Washington Post ahead of the resumption of Egyptian efforts to broker a ceasefire among the armed factions such as Hamas.
Israel has said it will only regard Qureia's government as a genuine partner in the peace process if it shows a willingness to dismantle the infrastructure of armed groups behind hundreds of deadly attacks during the three-year intifada.
A source close to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat said that both Arafat and Qureia were expected to meet yesterday with Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman who helped broker an earlier truce by the factions which collapsed in August after seven weeks.
The Palestinian National Security Council announced Sunday the creation of local committees in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to ensure the "respect of law and order" which are expected to try to keep an eventual ceasefire intact.
Civic leaders such as mayors and governors would sit on the bodies, according to a statement published by the official Wafa news agency.
Hamas' spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin on Friday ruled out an immediate suspension of anti-Israeli attacks but agreed to discuss the issue with Qureia.
Qureia, who strongly condemned the killing of civilians, warned in his interview that levels of hatred toward Israel among Palestinians were at an all-time high.
Sharon and Qureia are expected to meet soon after the Israeli leader returns from a three-day visit to Italy next week although ministerial-level meetings could begin before then.
The meetings will see a new attempt to kickstart the internationally-backed "roadmap" for peace project which has ground to a halt amid the freeze in contacts and continuing violence on the ground.
The backers of an alternative peace plan, known as the Geneva Initiative, stepped up their publicity drive Sunday by mailing the document to millions of Israeli households, while the text was published in special supplements in Palestinian newspapers.