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Abbas´ Future May Rest on D.C. Visit (AP) By JILL LAWLESS JERUSALEM, ISRAEL 07/23/03 11:19 AM) Source: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A34225-2003Jul23.html
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JERUSALEM - Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas could be ousted by the Palestinian parliament unless he returns from Washington with substantial concessions from Israel, the Palestinian information minister said Wednesday.
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The comments by Nabil Amr underscored the great expectations among Palestinians for Friday´s planned meeting between President Bush and the politically beleaguered Abbas.
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Although violence is markedly down since Palestinian militant groups declared a temporary halt to attacks on Israelis on June 29, frustrations are building on the Palestinian side about the halting progress along the U.S.-backed "road map," a blueprint meant to lead to Palestinian statehood by 2005.
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Israel has pulled out of parts of Gaza and the West Bank town of Bethlehem, but troops remain in other Palestinian towns. Israel also has dismantled few West Bank settler outposts and has not frozen construction in established settlements, as required by the plan.
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Israel refuses to release more than a few hundred of the estimated 7,700 Palestinian prisoners held for alleged involvement in terrorism.
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An Israeli official said Wednesday that the first Palestinian prisoners would be released within days.
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Foreign Ministry spokesman Yonatan Peled said Israel had a list of about 400 candidates for imminent release, "and we are confident that these prisoners will be released within a week, maybe in one single move or maybe in two steps."
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He did not say whether any of those freed would be from Palestinian militant groups Hamas or Islamic Jihad. Freeing some militants would give a boost to Abbas, who wants the groups to maintain their truce.
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Peled said Israel would consider releasing prisoners who had not been implicated in violence, "regardless of their political or terrorist organization affiliation."
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Israel says further progress in the road map is conditional on the Palestinian Authority dismantling and disarming militant groups, another step called for in the road map. Abbas refuses to do this for fear of sparking a civil war, and hopes to end violence by persuasion.
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Bush is scheduled to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on July 29, four days after his meeting with Abbas, and both sides are hoping he will break the deadlock by pressing the other to meet its obligations first.
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Amr said Abbas - who flies to the United States Wednesday after two days of meetings with officials in Egypt and Jordan - would ask Bush to press Israel for progress on these issues.
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Amr said the prime minister "needs to get support from the American administration in order to go ahead with implementation of the road map," or he would face "difficulties on the Palestinian street" and in the legislature.
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He said parliament would convene after Abbas´ return "to discuss his progress ... (and) debate again giving him its confidence or not."
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Abbas also faces pressure from Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who is being boycotted by the United States and Israel which accuse him of fomenting terrorism. Arafat reluctantly appointed Abbas in April under international pressure, and Arafat has tried to curtail the premier´s authority ever since.
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Abbas resigned from the central committee of Arafat´s Fatah Party two weeks ago after Arafat loyalists accused him of being too soft in his contacts with Sharon in recent months.
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Abbas held another inconclusive meeting with Sharon on Sunday, leading to grumbling among Palestinians about Israel´s unbending stance and Abbas´ inability to achieve results.
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Palestinian officials say the prisoner issue is emerging as the key to rebuilding trust shattered by 33 months of violence that killed 2,414 people on the Palestinian side and 806 on the Israeli side.
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Israel says the militant groups are using the truce to regroup and rearm and that a mass prisoner release would only replenish their ranks and spur another round of violence. The militants say they will scrap their truce unless Israel releases the prisoners.
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A government statement said Sharon had told the committee that prisoner releases would be made in small batches, and "weighed against decisive Palestinian action in the security field."
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Labor and welfare minister Zevulon Orlev, a committee member from the hawkish National Religious Party, said releasing Hamas and Islamic Jihad militants would be "very difficult morally, a grave political mistake and a very dangerous security gamble."
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But Israel Radio quoted the Shin Bet security agency as saying its chief, Avi Dichter, had told ministers that the release of some Hamas and Islamic Jihad members had already been agreed.
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Hamas spokesman Abdel Aziz Rantisi said the demand "is a red line for all the Palestinians" and must be met by Israel.
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In other developments, the army said Wednesday that police had arrested two Palestinians overnight in the northern West Bank village of Rai. The army said the men were Islamic Jihad members planning a suicide bombing in Israel.
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Also, police were looking for a missing soldier who was last seen getting off a bus in northern Israel on Monday. Police said they had not determined whether the soldier, Oleg Shaichat, had been abducted. Militant groups have threatened to kidnap soldiers to trade them for Palestinian prisoners held in Israel.
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On Tuesday, soldiers told to be on the lookout for a terrorist attack shot dead an Israeli Arab man when he failed to stop at a roadblock in the Israeli-Arab town of Taibeh. A passenger fled on foot. No weapons or explosives were found in the vehicle. After the shooting, outraged residents of the town threw rocks at police. (Copyright 2002 Associated Press. 07/23/03)
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