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Abbas Urges Militant Groups to Call Truce

Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas (searchpressed the main Islamic militant groups to halt their attacks to save a U.S-backed peace plan, but hopes for a truce dimmed early Thursday as a homicide attacker killed an Israeli.

The bomber entered a grocery in the Israeli village of Sde Trumot in the Jordan Valley (searchand set off his explosives, killing himself and the store's owner, police said. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the bombing, which occurred shortly after 6 a.m. on Thursday.

Sde Trumot is a small farming village three miles south of the city of Beit Shean (searchand just outside the West Bank.

The attack came after a day of meetings in which Abbas -- trying to convince militants to stop such bombings -- proposed a joint political leadership including the militant Hamas (search) and Islamic Jihad, said Hamas official Abu Shanab said.

In the talks, Hamas insisted on its right to target Israeli soldiers and settlers in the West Bank, said Shanab.

But he also said the group's leaders did not rule out the possibility of stopping the attacks. "We are examining the idea," said Abu Shanab.

Islamic Jihad leaders, however, rejected Abbas' call for a halt to attacks against all Israelis, said Islamic Jihad leader Abdulla Shami.

Israel's part of the emerging deal would be a commitment to stop targeted killings of suspected militants, participants said, adding that Israel has not given such assurances.

Raanan Gissin, an aide to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, denied reports that Israel told the United States that it would scale back its attempts to kill suspected terrorists.

Last week Israeli helicopters struck three times in Gaza City, targeting Hamas political leader Abdel Aziz Rantisi, who was wounded, and commanders and militants of the Hamas military wing. Twenty people, most of them bystanders, were killed. Also last week, a Hamas homicide bomber on a Jerusalem bus killed 17 people.

Gissin said a senior Israeli official went to Washington to inform the U.S. administration that Israel would continue to attack "ticking bombs," which he defined as terrorists carrying explosives.

The joint leadership suggested by Abbas would be headed by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and operate under the umbrella of the PLO, according to the official Palestine Media Center.

Israel and the United States have been trying to sideline Arafat, but he retains considerable clout and popularity.

Tuesday night, Palestinian gunmen killed a 7-year-old Israeli girl and wounded her sister in a highway ambush. A week of intense violence almost buried the U.S.-backed "road map" peace plan launched June 4.

The plan begins with a halt to 32 months of violence and is to lead to a Palestinian state in 2005. Israel, insisting that no moves can be made until Palestinian violence is stopped, threatened retaliation for the latest shooting.

"Someone has to wipe out the terrorist groups. Either Abu Mazen will do it, or we will have to do it," said Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, referring to Abbas by his nickname. Netanyahu was interviewed on Israel TV during a trip to Washington.

Sharon, speaking to Jewish fund-raisers from abroad on Wednesday evening, said Israel has accepted the road map with reservations, but "moving forward requires a complete cessation of terrorism, violence and incitement." The plan, in contrast, calls for parallel steps -- easing of Israeli restrictions as the Palestinians move to rein in the militants.

After opposing the concept of a temporary cease-fire in principle, Israel is now prepared to go along with it for up to six weeks, Israeli media reported Wednesday.

The truce period would give Abbas a chance to consolidate his power and rebuild his security forces, the reports said. Afterward, Israel would expect Palestinian security forces to move against militant groups, a step Abbas has said he will not take.