Sharon Satisfied With Palestinian Efforts (AP) By RAMIT PLUSHNICK-MASTI JERUSALEM, ISRAEL 01/27/05 3:51 AM)
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JERUSALEM - Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Thursday he
is "very satisfied" with Mahmoud Abbas´ efforts to restore calm and
that he is eager to resume negotiations with the Palestinian leader.
But in a small snag, the deployment of Palestinian police in southern
Gaza, initially set for Thursday, was postponed because of a
disagreement with Israel over where the officers should take up
positions. It was not immediately clear when the police would begin
deploying in the volatile area.
Despite the delay, optimism was running relatively high after Israeli
and Palestinian officials held their first round of diplomatic talks
Wednesday, and the sides looked toward the possibility of a Sharon-
Abbas summit in the next two weeks.
"There is no doubt Abu Mazen has started to work," Sharon was quoted
as saying in the Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronot. Abbas is widely
known as Abu Mazen. "I am very satisfied with what I am hearing is
happening on the Palestinian side and I am very interested in
advancing processes with him."
Meanwhile, in a race that pits Abbas´ ruling Fatah party against his
popular rival, the Islamic Hamas group, Palestinian voters in 10 Gaza
towns began choosing mayors and councils in the first such election
The Gaza vote follows a Dec. 23 election in 26 West Bank towns and
villages, and a Jan. 9 presidential race in which Abbas was chosen to
succeed Yasser Arafat, who died Nov. 11.
Hamas made a strong showing in the West Bank race - taking over many
councils from Fatah - and was also expected to do well in Gaza, where
the militant group is popular. Hamas has recently shifted its focus
toward politics, and agreed to halt its attacks, at least temporarily.
The developments signaled the possibility of a new era of relations
between Israel and the Palestinians and among Palestinians themselves.
In the Yediot interview, Sharon said he would not stop all Israeli
military operations for the time being, but would make gestures
toward the new Palestinian leader. He did not elaborate.
"I intend to advance the chance for an opportunity for an agreement
with the Palestinians, I intend to make gestures toward Abu Mazen and
at the same time keep my eyes open and examine the situation on their
side," Sharon said.
Israeli and Palestinian security officials met in Gaza twice on
Wednesday to arrange the deployment in southern Gaza, which one
Israeli government official called "complicated." The official
estimated it would take at least a week for Palestinian forces to
deploy in the coastal area that has been one of the most volatile
since fighting erupted in Sept. 2000.
Palestinian police officers deployed in the northern Gaza Strip last
Friday, leading to a halt in rocket fire on Israeli border towns, an
issue that led Israeli officials to consider conducting a broad
military operation in the area.
In the first high-level diplomatic meeting in months, Israeli and
Palestinian officials met Wednesday to discuss the terms for a Sharon-
Abbas summit, a meeting that would signal another breakthrough in
"These talks are promising in all aspects," Abbas said after the
Sharon aide Dov Weisglass and Palestinian Cabinet minister Saeb
Erekat met in Jerusalem for two hours and agreed to hold another
meeting next week.
Palestinian official Hassan Abu Libdeh, who attended the meeting,
said a summit could be held within two weeks. Sharon spokesman Raanan
Gissin confirmed a summit is planned but said "our main concern is
security - that the Palestinians continue to take additional steps to
end the violence, terrorism and incitement."
Palestinians want the summit agenda to focus on other issues, such as
the release of Palestinian prisoners and stopping construction of the
separation barrier Israel is building in the West Bank.
In a sign of renewed U.S. involvement in the region, senior U.S.
envoy William Burns arrived in Ramallah Thursday to meet Abbas and
Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia. Israeli media reported Burns
would also meet Sharon later on Thursday. Burns met Wednesday with
Israeli Vice Premier Shimon Peres.
Although optimism is running high, the current lull in violence is
On Wednesday, Abbas expressed concern about an Israeli arrest raid in
the West Bank town of Qalqiliya, where the army shot three men it
said were wanted militants. Maher Abu Sneineh, 24, was killed and two
were seriously wounded.
"They know that we are fully committed to calming things down and
they have to be responsible," Abbas said. "They have to stop these
operations so as not to ruin our efforts."
In Gaza, masked Palestinians who said they represented the Al Aqsa
Martyrs´ Brigades threatened to renew attacks if Israel does not stop
such operations within 24 hours. (Copyright 2005 Associated Press.
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