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Abbas denounces Israeli tales of feud with Arafat (TIMES OF OMAN) NICOSIA 04/21/03) Source: http://www.timesofoman.com/newsdetails.asp?newsid=32442
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NICOSIA — Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmud Abbas accused Israel yesterday of fabricating stories about a rift between him and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
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Israel “has invented” tales of a feud between him and Arafat, Abbas told the Arab news channel Al Arabiya, monitored from Nicosia.
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“Arafat is the legitimate leader elected to lead the struggle. And we are in complete harmony,” said Abbas.
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Abbas blasted Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for delaying his official acceptance of the US-backed and internationally drafted roadmap for peace, which calls for the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel by 2005.
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Abbas, also called Abu Mazen, described his Israeli counterpart as “cunning” and said he had pushed Sharon during their meeting on Saturday night, the highest-level meeting between the sides since the 31-month intifada erupted, “to accept the roadmap, as we have done, if they want to move forward.”
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In Cairo, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher closed rank behind Arafat in response to Israeli allegations Arafat is the mastermind behind the spiralling violence in Israel.
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“President Arafat is the elected president of the Palestinian people and all the world knows that he is their sole leader,” Maher was quoted as saying by the official MENA news agency.
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“Abu Mazen is not a substitute leader for Arafat and the one who named him to his post is Arafat himself,” he said.
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In Washington, the White House said yesterday that US President George W. Bush spoke for the first time with Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmud Abbas and stressed the “absolute need” to fight terrorism in the Middle East.
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The 15-minute telephone conversation with Abbas, who is also known as Abu Mazen, was “friendly and hopeful,” Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer told reporters.
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“President Bush’s judgment is that Abu Mazen understands that the future success, health and welfare of the Palestinian people begins with attacking those who are violent and seek to derail the peace,” he added.
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The conversation came as Israel was on high alert after five martyrdom attacks in 48 hours, the latest one being Monday’s attack on a shopping centre in the northern Israeli town of Aula.
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The attack was carried out by a 19-year-old Palestinian woman.
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Palestinian security sources said Hiba Darghmeh, a student of English literature at a West Bank university, was a devout Muslim whose brother had been in Israeli custody for nearly a year.
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They said the Fatah faction recruited her for the mission, and the Islamic Jihad group had armed her with an explosives belt.
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Israel, meanwhile, relaxed its military grip yesterday in an area of the Gaza Strip where the first steps could be taken to fulfil a US- backed peace plan.
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Witnesses said the Israeli Army pulled out of Beit Hanoun, a northern Gaza town it swept into last Thursday in what it described as an open- ended operation to prevent fighters firing homemade rockets into southern Israel.
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Bush renewed his commitment to the so- called “roadmap” to peace, which calls for creating a Palestinian state living at peace with Israel by 2005, and “reiterated the absolute need for all parties to fight terror,” said Fleischer. “The president stressed the need for all parties to take concrete steps, called for cooperative efforts between all Arab parties and Israel to create the conditions for peace and security in the Middle East.”
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“Abu Mazen told the president he was committed to reform, to peace and to ending all acts of terror,” said the spokesman. “The president was pleased with the conversation.”
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Bush “believes that Abu Mazen is a reformer, that Abu Mazen is dedicated to peace and that Abu Mazen wants to do everything in his power to fight terrorism to crack down on those who would interfere with the peace,” said Fleischer.
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The two leaders did not discuss specific steps to crack down on violence, nor did they address Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat’s role in the peace process, said the spokesman.
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But Bush did say he looked forward to future conversations with Abbas and to hosting him at the White House, where he aims to welcome Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon soon for his eighth visit, said Fleischer.
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“The president will say to all parties, including Israel, that they have responsibilities that they, too, need to take to help achieve peace,” he said.
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Sharon postponed a trip here — including a meeting with Bush — due to the recent spate of violence. — AFP, Reuters 05/21/03
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