Israeli defense minister says Arab peace initiative can be basis for talks

Israel's defense minister said that a dormant Saudi initiative for Mideast peace could be a "basis for negotiation," indicating a new possibility for talks with the Palestinians after years of stalemate.

The Saudi plan calls for a comprehensive peace between Israel and the Arab world, based on a complete Israeli withdrawal from lands it captured in the 1967 Mideast war the West Bank, Gaza Strip, east Jerusalem and Golan Heights.

Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz said he was not endorsing the plan. But he was the most senior Israeli official even to publicly consider it.

"We could see the Saudi initiative as the basis for negotiation. This does not mean that we are adopting the Saudi initiative, but it can serve as a basis," Peretz said at an academic conference at Tel Aviv University.

Meanwhile, fighting broke out early Wednesday in the Gaza Strip as Israeli troops and helicopter airstrikes killed four Palestinian militants and wounded 33 people as troops moved into a northern Gaza town, Palestinian security and hospital officials said, reports AP.

Palestinians hospital officials said the wounded included a woman and an 11-year-old boy. The others were almost all armed militants, they added. Fourteen Palestinian militant groups took responsibility for attacking Israeli troops.

The army said its troops were still operating in the town of Beit Hanoun, in the latest phase in a 4-month-old-offensive in the area. The army said 300 rockets have been fired from Beit Hanoun at Israel since the beginning of the year.

On Tuesday, Israeli troops shot and killed three Hamas militants during operations in Gaza.