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Abbas to Seek U.S. Help on Peace Plan (AP) By JOSEPH COLEMAN JERUSALEM, ISRAEL 07/17/03 2:21 PM) Source: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A6114-2003Jul17.html
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JERUSALEM - Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas will seek U.S. help in winning Israeli implementation of the "road map" peace plan in talks with President Bush later this month, Palestinian officials said Thursday.
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A temporary cease-fire declared by Palestinian militants on June 29 has brought a dramatic drop in violence, but progress on the peace plan is stalled by fierce disagreement over what should be the next step.
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Palestinians are hoping Abbas´ meeting with Bush at the White House, scheduled for July 25, will lead to Israeli moves such as dismantling illegal settlement outposts and withdrawing further from Palestinian towns.
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The White House on Thursday officially confirmed the Abbas visit, noting that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is to meet Bush four days later. "The president is committed to his vision of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said.
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Abbas´ government is also pushing for release of the estimated 7,000 Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails, but that is not spelled out in the road map, which calls for an end to fighting and a Palestinian state by 2005.
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Palestinian lawmaker Saeb Erekat said it was crucial for Abbas to make progress as a way of winning the support from Palestinians that he needs to move ahead with further steps demanded by the Israelis.
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"In the street, what we need to show is something tangible, something that the people can say, ´This is the result,´" Erekat said.
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In an indication of the skepticism Abbas faces, the spokesman for a main militant group - Islamic Jihad - said the movement expects "no positive result" from the visit to Washington. "All the American demands will focus on dismantling the resistance groups and ending the intefadeh (uprising), which is against the interest of the Palestinian people," Mohammed al-Hindi said.
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Israel has dismantled about a dozen of the roughly 100 outposts - most unpopulated - and has pulled troops out of parts of Gaza and the West Bank town of Bethlehem. But it has resisted further action, insisting that the Palestinians must first make credible moves to disarm the militant groups responsible for attacks that have killed hundreds of Israelis since September 2000.
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Raanan Gissin, a Sharon spokesman, said Israel was "committed to the road map, but the prime minister is determined that there will be no progress along the road map as long as the Palestinians do not implement their obligations as they are written.
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"If they don´t do this they will receive nothing," Gissin said. "There needs to be an unequivocal action to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure."
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An Israeli official said on condition of anonymity that Israel viewed any release of prisoners as related to the issue if dismantling the violent groups, because if the prisoners could resume a role in armed groups, they would pose a renewed danger to Israelis.
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Israel´s security forces also suspect militant groups are using the cease-fire as a chance to regroup by recruiting members, replenishing a depleted leadership and smuggling in more weapons.
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Abbas fears serious moves to dismantle groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad would lead to civil war.
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Negotiators on both sides also were trying to arrange a meeting between Sharon and Abbas. Palestinian Information Minister Nabil Amr said the meeting could take place this weekend, though a day had not yet been set.
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Abbas is facing tensions within his own government. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat reluctantly appointed him premier in April under international pressure, and the two have wrestled over sharing power. Abbas´ Washington trip, however, was made with Arafat´s approval, Palestinian officials said.
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The cease-fire has held so far, despite sporadic violence that raised fears it could collapse. Islamic Jihad and Hamas declared a three- month moratorium on attacks, while the Fatah movement, headed by Arafat, declared a six-month truce.
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Palestinian officials have floated the idea of extending the cease- fire indefinitely, but Islamic groups have not indicated a willingness to go along. Israeli officials say an extension would not soften their demand for disarmament. (© 2003 The Associated Press 07/17/03)
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