TEL AVIV, Israel, May 30 (UPI) -- Israeli officials Friday rejected an offer by the Palestinian leadership to reach a cease-fire deal with the militant group Hamas, saying only a "permanent cessation of terrorism" would satisfy them.
"The Palestinians must take concrete action to eradicate terrorism," Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom told foreign ambassadors. "A cease-fire is not enough. Israel wants a permanent cessation of terrorism, not a cease-fire."
On Thursday, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas told his Israeli counterpart, Ariel Sharon, of his efforts to reach a cease-fire with Hamas. Israel and the Palestinians are engaged in talks as part of the "road map" to peace in the region.
Shalom said, however, a cease-fire with militant groups would place Israel in a precarious position.
"We don't want to be hostages of the Hamas, or the Islamic Jihad," he said. "When they will decide to put an end to the cease-fire, this quiet, they will renew attacks against Israeli civilians. We can't accept it."
Friday's briefing came as the peace process seemed to be picking up. Both sides undertook to follow the "road map" for peace that the Quartet – the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia -- presented April 30.
The plan calls for a series of reciprocal measures that would culminate in an independent Palestine by 2005 and security for Israel.
The Palestinians have accepted the plan, but Israel, with 14 objections to the proposal, has said its acceptance is conditional. Among them -- the issue of the right of return of Palestinian refugees who left their homes when Israel was created in 1948, and the matter of Jewish settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories.
Israel says if the refugees return, they will outnumber Jews in Israel.
Their return would mean the "destruction of the state of Israel," Shalom told the ambassadors. "I can't really understand why when they want to create their own state, they are asking for their own people to be citizens of another state.
"It's illogical and we're not going to accept it."
The Palestinians have insisted on the point. The "road map" calls for a "just, fair, and realistic solution to the refugee issue," but does not elaborate.
Thursday's meeting between Sharon and Abbas, who is known as Abu Mazen, was the second between the two men. They are both scheduled to meet with U.S. President George W. Bush on Aqaba, Jordan, next Wednesday to discuss the process.
Key among issues likely to be discussed is the ability of the Palestinian leadership to control violence by militant groups, including some linked to its on upper echelons.
The "road map" says the Palestinians must "immediately undertake an unconditional cessation of violence." The Palestinians, however, maintain their security apparatus in the West Bank and Gaza have been paralyzed since the intifada began in September 2000.
Rather than aim to suppress groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad by force, Abu Mazen has been trying to reach a cease-fire agreement with them.
Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath told United Press International Abu Mazen updated Sharon on the progress made in talks with Hamas.
A senior Hamas member told UPI the group was willing to accept a 1-year cease-fire to test Sharon's intentions to end the Israeli occupation.
Subsequent Hamas reports said the group would accept a hudna -- an Islamic concept of a cease-fire limited in time -- providing Israel stopped targeted killings, incursions, house demolitions, and released prisoners arrested in the past 2-1/2 years.
In his briefing, Shalom asked foreign governments to help advance the peace process, and persuade Jordan and Egypt to return their ambassadors to Israel who were withdrawn at the height of the intifada.
A Western diplomat who heard Shalom told UPI he thought the appeals for external support were partly designed to help overcome criticism of Sharon within his ruling Likud party.
There was also some confusion as to why Israel was not going to attend a summit meeting, with Bush and Arab leaders who support the peace process, in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheik.
According to diplomats emerging from the briefing, Egyptian envoy Ihab el-Sherif said the Israelis were welcome. Shalom told the ambassadors Israel was not invited.
(Saud Abu Ramadan contributed to this report from Gaza.)