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Palestinian, Israeli Premiers Hold Summit (AP) By MARK LAVIE JERUSALEM, ISRAEL 07/21/03 3:22 AM) Source: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A21253-2003Jul21.html
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JERUSALEM - The Palestinian Authority outlawed incitement to violence and Israel hinted at a new flexibility over the release of prisoners during a prime ministers´ summit just days before the leaders travel to Washington to discuss a peace plan.
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Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian premier Mahmoud Abbas met for two hours Sunday at Sharon´s official residence. The meeting produced few concrete results but both sides showed a willingness to compromise.
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Talks centered on Israel´s demand the Palestinians disarm militants, and Abbas´ demand for the release of thousands of Palestinians in Israeli jails.
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Palestinians were hoping the meeting would produce a firm Israeli pledge to release prisoners and Israelis wanted a promise from Palestinians to crackdown on militant groups.
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Still, both sides showed signs of trying to move toward the other - the Palestinians by outlawing incitement to violence and the Israelis by hinting that they may be flexible over the release of prisoners.
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Abbas will meet President Bush on July 25, while Sharon sees Bush July 29.
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In an apparent move to satisfy Israel, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat issued a decree Sunday outlawing "incitement that encourages the use of violence that harms relations with foreign countries." The decree is identical to one issued in 1998 but effectively rendered invalid during 33 months of violence that followed the collapse of American peace efforts.
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It also bans "illegal organizations that encourage violence and arouse the public to bring about change through force" and "incitement that encourages the violation of the agreements signed by the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization) and foreign countries." That appeared to be a reference to the U.S.-backed "road map" to peace, and making violation of the truce a punishable offense.
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Israel also appeared to be trying to be more flexible.
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Sharon´s office said after the meeting that he had pledged to consider Palestinian requests for additional prisoner releases, further Israeli withdrawals from Palestinian towns and the dismantling of Israeli roadblocks in the West Bank and Gaza.
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Hopes on the Palestinian side had been raised in recent days that Israel was growing more willing to consider releasing more of the estimated 7,700 Palestinians it holds. Israel has agreed to free several hundred, but has so far resisted Palestinian demands for a mass release.
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The Israeli statement said a special committee dealing with the releases would meet on Wednesday, but added that consideration of widening the scope of the releases to include Islamic militants would not come until after Sharon returns from Washington.
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Palestinian lawmaker Saeb Erekat said the delegation called the meeting "a disappointment" because no decision would be made until after the Washington meetings.
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While the release of prisoners is not spelled out as an Israeli obligation in the "road map," the Palestinians have made it a major issue. Palestinian security chief Mohammed Dahlan said Sunday the releases were "at the top of our agenda."
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According to the Israeli statement, Israeli and Palestinian officials would convene to work out how the releases will be handled, the first time Israel was allowing Palestinian input into the process, a key Palestinian demand.
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Also on Sunday, Cabinet minister Gideon Ezra said it would be possible to free members of Islamic groups if they weren´t involved in deadly attacks.
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The lack of movement on the peace plan made the upcoming meetings in Washington of even more importance, said Ali Jerbawi, political scientist at Bir Zeit University in the West Bank.
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Bush is expected to press for progress on the "road map" peace plan, which calls for ending violence and creating a Palestinian state by 2005.
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"If the Americans can pressure the Israelis into delivering, I think that might save the road map," he said.
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Otherwise, he added, "I think that the road map is doomed."
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Israel acknowledged that terror attacks have eased since the main Palestinian groups declared a cease-fire on June 29. But Raanan Gissin, a Sharon aide, said it was too early to make significant gestures toward the Palestinians, like removing roadblocks that have crippled Palestinian life for nearly three years.
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"We want to be very cautious in the steps that we make," he told the Associated Press, complaining that since the truce, Palestinian militant groups have been rearming and regrouping. He warned that "the whole process (could) be disrupted by one renegade terrorist act."
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Palestinian Information Minister Nabil Amr, speaking in Ramallah, appealed to the U.S. government for help in winning Israeli implementation of the plan.
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"We need all the support from our friends the Americans," he said. (© 2003 The Associated Press 07/21/03)
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