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Abbas: We await Israeli response to cease-fire offer (HA´ARETZ NEWS) By Aluf Benn and Arnon Regular, Haaretz Correspondents, and The Associated Press 01/27/05 15:09 (GMT+2)Source: http://www.haaretzdaily.com/hasen/spages/532492.html HA'ARETZ} NEWS SERVICE HA'ARETZ} NEWS SERVICE Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas said Thursday he is waiting for an Israeli response to his offer to declare a mutual cease-fire "as soon as possible."

Abbas spoke to reporters a day after senior Israeli and Palestinian officials met to discuss a possible truce deal and the agenda for an upcoming summit between the Palestinian leader and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

In the course of the Wednesday meeting, former Palestinian security chief Mohammed Dahlan said Thursday, Israel agreed in principle to stop pursuing militants and halt targeted killings.

Israel has said it would respond to "quiet with quiet."

Israeli officials have said in the past they are not interested in a formal cease-fire declaration, a sentiment repeated Thursday by Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, who called the cease-fire a "ticking bomb."

However, Palestinian cabinet minister Saeb Erekat, who participated in Wednesday´s meeting, said his Israeli counterparts agreed to consider the idea.

"We are willing to have a cease-fire, and we have informed the Israelis of this and we are waiting for an answer from them as soon as possible," Abbas told reporters Thursday, before leaving the West Bank for visits to Jordan, Egypt, Switzerland, Russia and Turkey.

Erekat said he proposed a mutual cease-fire declaration in his meeting Wednesday with Sharon aide Dov Weisglass.

"They [the Israelis] did not reject this. They will give us the final answer next week," he said.

But Shalom said the cease-fire forged by Abbbas was a "ticking bomb which will blow up in our faces."

Shalom made the comments hours after an interview with Sharon was published in which the prime minister said he is "very satisfied" with the steps being taken by Abbas to end the violence.

Speaking to Army Radio after talks with newly confirmed U.S. Secretary of State-designate Condoleezza Rice, said, "A cease-fire as such is not a goal."

"Whoever thinks a halt is the right thing, is mistaken. A cease-fire is a ticking bomb which will blow up in our faces," Shalom said.

"Therefore, you cannot take a cease-fire as a long-range goal, while they are are still preserving their infrastructure, the extremist organizations can rebuild them and bring about a situation in which at a time they choose they can carry out one terrorist attack or a series of terror attacks, which will bring down this whole process and send it to hell."

Sharon spokesman Asaf Shariv also backed away from expressing support for a cease-fire per se, but said Israel is examining the Palestinian proposals. "I don´t know if a cease-fire is the right wording," he said. "If there is quiet on the Palestinian side, Israel will respond with quiet."

Israel due to release Palestinian prisoners

Israel is expected to release hundreds of Palestinian prisoners as part of a package of steps and goodwill gestures designed to help strengthen the new Palestinian leadership and encourage them to continue efforts to prevent terror, Israeli officials have said.

Sharon will meet Abbas and Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia in about two weeks and present them with the steps Israel intends to take.

"There is no doubt that Abu Mazen [Abbas] has begun to work," Sharon told the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper in an interview published Thursday. "I am very satisfied with what I hear is happening on the Palestinian side, and I have a serious interest in advancing the process with him [Abbas]."

"I intend to advance the chance of a settlement with the Palestinians," the prime minister said. "I intend to be accommodating towards Abu Mazen while at the same time remaining vigilant and assessing the situation on their side."

In Wednesday´s meeting of Sharon, Abbas and Qureia aides, the Palestinians emphasized the importance of freeing prisoners. The Israelis said they understand the Palestinian position, and would examine the request in the context of progress made in achieving quiet on the ground.

Three-stage plan

The sides discussed a three-stage joint security plan that includes a cease-fire, transferring West Bank cities to Palestinian control, and dealing with wanted men.

* Cease-fire: Weisglass said that if there is a total halt to all forms of Palestinian violence against Israelis everywhere, Israel would refrain from all military activity. The only deviation from that would be for "ticking bombs," which would take place only under special circumstances and with approval from the political echelon.

Sharon has said that he conditions the continuation of the contacts with the Palestinian Authority on the continuation of the calm. Aides to the prime minister said that Israel is pleased with actions the PA has taken to prevent violence, but the prime minister has reservations about declarations over a mutual cease-fire, preferring practical agreements instead.

* Transfer of West Bank cities: Dahlan will meet with Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz next week to resume hudna discussions that began in the summer of 2003 about the IDF quitting the West Bank´s city centers, which would take place once the Palestinians hand over a detailed security plan and say they can take responsibility. The Israelis noted that the Palestinians have been much more serious in discussing their security plans than they were in 2003.

Palestinian security sources said after the meeting that Abbas already had relayed instructions to the PA´s security mechanisms to prepare for the possibility that they would be entrusted with security responsibility for various towns and cities in the West Bank.

* Dealing with wanted men: Israel expects the PA to remove hundreds of wanted men from terror activity, disarming them and keeping them under its control. The Palestinians are planing to co-opt the armed men into the PA security forces.

The Israelis emphasized that security is their main issue and "confidence building measures" such as prisoner releases and opening checkpoints are meant to strengthen PA capabilities to stop terrorism in the territories.

The atmosphere at Wednesday´s meeting was good. Weisglass and Dahlan traded jokes, the Palestinians made no demands such as freeing Marwan Barghouti or halting construction of the separation fence, which in the past - under Yasser Arafat - had become preconditions for them to hold meetings with Sharon.

Weisglass briefed Vice Premier Shimon Peres and Minister without Portfolio Haim Ramon after the meeting. Next week, Weisglass will travel to Washington to meet Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley. Upon his return, the sides will hold another meeting to prepare for the Sharon-Abbas summit.(© Copyright 2005 Haaretz. 01/27/05)

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