Israel set to resume talks with PLO

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ISRAEL decided to reopen the Middle East peace talks yesterday but there were signs that the Palestine Liberation Organisation leader, Yasser Arafat, was facing a resurgent challenge from Islamic extremists opposed to the entire peace process.

Last night the Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, and Foreign Minister, Shimon Peres, were flying to Jordan for a meeting with King Hussein to try to speed up the conclusion of a peace treaty.

The Israeli cabinet earlier agreed to resume negotiations with the PLO, which were suspended last week when the fundamentalist group Hamas kidnapped an Israeli soldier. The talks will resume in Cairo tomorrow.

The kidnapping ended last Friday when Israeli commandos stormed a guerrilla hideout. The hostage, three Hamas gunmen and the Israeli officer leading the raid were all killed. The episode has ignited a dangerous conflict between the fundamentalists and Mr Arafat's secular Palestinian Authority, which governs Gaza and Jericho. In Beirut, Hamas vowed to continue its violent campaign to wreck the peace talks and win the release of 6,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.

Guerrillas of the pro-Iranian Hizbollah group in Lebanon attacked Israeli positions with rockets and mortar bombs, saying the action was in support of Hamas.

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