Sharon Says ´Very Satisfied´ with Abbas (REIUTERS) By Jeffrey Heller JERUSALEM, Israel Additional reporting by Wafa Amr and Diala Saadeh in Ramallah and Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza 01/27/05 09:44 AM ET)
Reuters News Service
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JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said he
was very satisfied with efforts by Palestinian President Mahmoud
Abbas to restore calm and pledged in an interview published on
Thursday to pursue peace with him.
"There is no doubt that Abu Mazen (Abbas) has begun to work," Sharon
told the Yedioth Ahronoth daily.
"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, speaking after talks with U.S. envoy William Burns, urged
Israel to agree quickly to a cease-fire with Palestinian militants
and said he was looking forward to holding a still unscheduled
summit with Sharon.
Burns told reporters the United States was "very encouraged" by
steps Abbas has taken toward a "restoration of law and order" that
would serve as a basis for a cease-fire.
Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurie later signed an order banning
unauthorized Palestinians from carrying weapons. Militant groups
have ignored such edicts, issued by the Palestinian Authority in the
Abbas, elected president on Jan. 9 on a platform of ending more than
four years of bloodshed, has been pursuing a truce deal with Hamas
and other militant groups. Violence has dropped sharply in Gaza,
raising hopes peacemaking can be revived.
A Palestinian official said Israel had already agreed to free 500 of
some 7,000 Palestinians it is holding. Israeli political sources
confirmed Israel was considering letting hundreds of prisoners out
as a goodwill gesture to Abbas.
"I intend to advance the chance of a settlement with the
Palestinians," Sharon said. "I intend to be accommodating toward Abu
Mazen while at the same time remaining vigilant and assessing the
situation on their side."
Israel says it will answer quiet with quiet and has shelved major
military operations, but refused to stop selective raids.
ABBAS AWAITING WORD FROM ISRAEL ON TRUCE
But Abbas suggested he needed formal word from Israel that it would
hold its fire in order to get militant factions behind a truce they
insist must be mutual.
"The Israelis have to respond quickly. We cannot wait for a week or
two," Abbas said in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
In another sign of change after Yasser Arafat´s death, Palestinians
voted in the Gaza Strip´s first municipal election, a test of
strength between Abbas and the militant Hamas, which is popular in
the territory Israel plans to leave this summer.
Abbas and Sharon are expected to meet next month for talks likely to
focus on coordinating the planned pullout from the Gaza Strip and
ways to restart a U.S.-backed peace "road map" charting incremental
steps toward a Palestinian state.
Across the Gaza Strip, thousands turned out to vote for candidates
vying for 118 seats in 10 municipal councils.
"The election is our way of getting rid of corruption," Mohammed Abu
Harbeed, a supporter of pro-Hamas candidates.
Hamas, which advocates Israel´s destruction, made significant
inroads in last month´s West Bank municipal elections in which the
mainstream Fatah came out ahead. (Additional reporting by Wafa Amr
and Diala Saadeh in Ramallah and Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza) (©
Reuters 2005. 01/27/05)
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