Israel Summons Swiss Diplomat to Protest Peace Plan

The Israeli Foreign Ministry (searchsummoned a senior Swiss diplomat to protest Switzerland's (search) backing for an informal Mideast peace plan reached by former Israeli and Palestinian negotiators, an official said Tuesday.

In other developments, Israelis voted in municipal elections in which Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's (searchLikud party was expected to lose key mayoral positions.

Sharon led Likud to a sweeping victory in February general elections, but the party might be hurt on the local level by infighting and competition by independent candidates, some of whom are backed by the opposition Labor party, analysts said.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian prime minister said efforts are underway to reach a cease-fire involving militant groups and Israel. Israel dismissed the truce talks.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Jonathan Peled said Switzerland's acting head of mission, Claude Altermatt, was summoned on Monday. Peled said Israeli officials expressed "misgivings about the Swiss involvement in promoting" the peace plan.

Altermatt said he stressed during the meeting that Switzerland had only been a facilitator and that the negotiators were responsible for the final document.

"Switzerland just provided a frame and gave money to push activities toward a peace solution here in the Middle East, where a very complex conflict is under way," he said.

Nonetheless, Altermatt said his government would support the formal launch of the document at a ceremony next month.

The Geneva agreement envisions a Palestinian state in 98 percent of the West Bank and all of the Gaza Strip, lands Israel occupied in the 1967 Middle East war. In return, Palestinian refugees -- who fled or were forced to flee their homes during the 1948 Mideast war -- would largely be blocked from returning to what is today Israel.

Sharon has expressed its opposition to the Geneva accord, but the plan enjoys support in Europe and among parts of the Israeli population.

Israeli and Palestinian negotiators hope to sign the agreement in Geneva on Nov. 4, the eighth anniversary of the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin by an extremist Jew who opposed his peace moves.

Peled said Israel remains committed to the "road map," a U.S.-backed plan that also envisions a Palestinian state but does not lay out its final borders. The United Nations, Russia and the European Union are co-sponsors of the plan.

"We think it's the only internationally recognized plan, formulated by the Europeans themselves, and the only plan which is accepted by both sides," Peled said.

About 3.8 million Israelis were eligible to vote in the local elections. However, turnout was expected to be low.

Analysts expected the Likud to suffer key losses. In addition to the infighting, analysts said the party would be hurt by Sharon's decision to keep traditional allies, including the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, out of the governing coalition. Shas is very active on the municipal level.

A Likud loss could weaken Sharon, who has been hurt by corruption allegations.

Meanwhile, Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia said there are contacts with militant groups about a new truce to stop attacks against Israelis, but Israel said it is interested only in a crackdown on the violent groups, not a cease-fire.

Qureia has spoken at least once in recent days with Khaled Mashaal, the Hamas leader in Syria, a Palestinian source said.

The new truce would replace one declared unilaterally by militants June 29. It lasted about six weeks before collapsing in a spate of Palestinian bombings and Israeli retaliation.

This time, Israel would have to be a party to the cease-fire, Qureia said. "If there is no mutual commitment, then there is no meaning to a cease-fire," he told a news conference in the West Bank town of Ramallah.

Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom told reporters in Jerusalem that the failed truce was a fraud to begin with.

"Extremists took advantage of this period of time in order to dig more tunnels, to smuggle more weapons, to train their activists in their training camps and to make tests in order to extend the range of their missiles," he said.

And in the West Bank, Israeli settlers announced a new tactic for protecting their homes from Palestinian militants: pigs. The Gdud Haivri organization, which supplies guard dogs to West Bank settlements, said it plans on using pigs as well.

The group's chief, Yekutiel Ben-Yaakov, told Israeli media that pigs have a great sense of smell and can be trained to identify weapons. He also noted that pigs might be a deterrent because they are impure under Islamic law.

Jewish religious law also considers the animals impure and forbids raising them in Israel. However, local rabbinical authorities approved the initiative because it would save Jewish lives.