Palestinian leader calls for swift Israeli response to ceasefire bid (AFP-FRANCE PRESSE) RAMALLAH, West Bank 01/27/05 4:03 PM ET)
AFP} Agence France Presse
AFP} Agence France Presse Articles-Index-Top
RAMALLAH, West Bank (AFP) - Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas called on
Israel to make a swift response to demands for a mutual ceasefire
with armed factions as a top official claimed some 900 Palestinian
prisoners would soon be released by Israel.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, meanwhile, said an "historic
breakthrough" was possible with the Palestinians following truce
efforts by their new leader Mahmud Abbas.
"I think that an historic breakthrough is possible in our relations
with the Palestinians. I want to underline that we are detecting
encouraging signs but these things must still be verified," he told
Israeli businessmen in Jerusalem.
Adding to the momentum, new US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
is to leave next week on a tour of European nations as well as Israel
and the West Bank, officials in Washington said.
Abbas held his first talks with a senior US official on Thursday
since his January 9 election, after winning praise from President
George W. Bush and Sharon for his efforts to end the armed uprising.
"We are interested in a mutual ceasefire. The Israelis have also told
me that they are interested but they need to respond very quickly,"
Abbas told reporters. "There is no reason why they should delay any
The successor to the late Yasser Arafat has already secured an
agreement from militant groups such as Hamas and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs
Brigades for a "cooling down" period.
There has been a sharp reduction in attacks by militants over the
past week from their Gaza stronghold where thousands of Palestinian
security forces have been deployed with orders to prevent the firing
However Abbas, speaking after talks with US Assistant Secretary of
State William Burns, said the situation "cannot last for long".
The factions have said that they are willing to make a formal
ceasefire declaration if Israel ends its military operations in the
occupied territories and starts to release the 8,000 Palestinians
being held in Israeli prisons.
A senior official claimed that Israel had already agreed in principle
to release hundreds of Palestinian prisoners.
"They have agreed to release around 900 in the first phase which I
expect to take place in the near future," said the official who was
present at talks on Wednesday with Sharon´s top advisor Dov
A source close to Sharon however denied any such agreement had been
"The prisoner issue was raised at the meeting yesterday, and it is
part of a range of issues which will be discussed between Abu Mazen
(Abbas) and Prime Minister Sharon," he told AFP.
Former Palestinian security minister Mohammed Dahlan told AFP that
Israel had also agreed to leave five West Bank cities, in the talks
between senior officials held in Jerusalem.
Although Sharon expressed his satisfaction at the moves by Abbas to
reduce the violence on the ground, Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom was
distinctly cool on talk of a ceasefire.
"Anyone who thinks a ceasefire is the right thing to do, is mistaken.
A ceasefire is a ticking bomb which will blow up in our faces," the
Israeli minister told army radio.
Burns had a more upbeat assessment of the situation, detecting "the
best chance for progress that we have seen in the last few years".
"The United States welcomes the steps that President Abbas and the
Palestinian Authority have taken that have resulted in the return of
order and security and the moves of the authority to reach a
In another confidence-building move, Palestinian prime minister Ahmed
Qorei signed a decree banning anyone but members of the security
services from carrying weapons. (Copyright © 2005 Agence France
Return to Top
MATERIAL REPRODUCED FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY