JERUSALEM – Mideast diplomacy picked up Monday after a long stalemate, with Egypt planning to send its foreign minister to the Palestinian areas to try to broker a cease-fire.
Also, two senior U.S. officials were scheduled to visit the region this week hoping to revive the "road map" peace plan.
The moves come with peace efforts between Israel and the Palestinians at a standstill. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (search) has threatened to impose a boundary on the Palestinians if there is no progress in the next few months.
"We hope these visits will give some impetus to the dialogue between us and the Palestinians ... obviously something that would ease the situation for both sides," Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said Monday.
Egypt has tried in vain in recent months to win a promise from Palestinians to halt attacks on Israelis. In turn, it wants Israel to stop targeted killings of terror suspects.
The visit Tuesday by Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher (search) comes a month after he was attacked but not hurt by a Palestinian crowd while trying to pray at Jerusalem's Al Aqsa Mosque (search). Palestinian extremists at the mosque objected to Maher's meetings with Israeli leaders.
Jibril Rajoub, a Palestinian security adviser, said Maher would be accompanied by Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, who has been the key mediator in the internal Palestinian cease-fire talks.
Maher has no plans to meet with Israeli officials, Egyptian Foreign Ministry officials said.
Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia (search) backs a cease-fire, believing it will lead the way to more substantive talks about the U.S.-backed road map, which lays out a series of steps meant to lead to an independent Palestinian state by 2005.
But Palestinian militant groups have rejected the idea, demanding guarantees that Israel reciprocate.
In the meantime, efforts to arrange a summit between Qureia and Sharon have faltered, and the road map has stalled.
While the Palestinians have not carried out the road map requirement to dismantle militant groups, Israel has failed to remove some settlements and freeze construction in others.
Visits this week by State Department officials John Wolf and David Satterfield will be focused on the road map, said U.S. Embassy spokesman Paul Patin. "Everything is on the agenda," Patin said, including the peace plan and the dire humanitarian situation in Palestinian areas.
Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, on a trip to Israel, urged the two sides to honor the road map. "There isn't any other proposal around. It's the only game in town," he said.
Speaking with reporters, Downer criticized the route of a barrier that Israel is building along the West Bank. Israel says the barrier is meant to protect against suicide bombers. But Palestinians call the massive structure, which dips deep into the West Bank in several places, as a seizure of land where they hope to establish a state.
"I can understand why Israel sees it necessary to build a security fence," Downer said. "We don't think the current planned route of the security fence is acceptable. And it is provocative."
The International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands, is set to review the legality of the barrier next month.