Osama Al Baz, top aide to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, expressed some optimism yesterday after his meeting in Ramallah with Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat and other senior Palestinian officials, as part of Egyptian efforts to forge a hudna (cease-fire). Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia, who is currently in Saudi Arabia, did not attend the meeting.

With Egyptian help, Qureia has been trying for weeks to negotiate a truce agreement among Palestinian factions, but without success.

After yesterday's meeting, Al Baz said: "We are deeply concerned to get out of this problematic situation which threatens the whole region. What I heard from President Arafat makes me more hopeful for the future."

Al Baz also urged the Palestinians to take an active role in improving the situation. "We should set a good example. We, from our side, should take decisions and measures that can lead the way to a better future," he said.

"Then, we hope the Israelis will do the same, because [resolving] the whole problem depends on the willingness of both sides."

Arafat, who has been confined to Ramallah for two years by Israel, said only that they had discussed "the problems that we face as the Palestinian people."